Sat | Aug 17, 2019

Peter Espeut | It's all in the game

Published:Friday | December 14, 2018 | 12:00 AM

No, the Jamaican Government is not schizophrenic; it does not have a split personality. How then, you may ask, can one agency of government be so wantonly corrupt, funding lavish private birthday parties, serving US$1,000 (J$128,000) birthday cakes, while another is prepared to expose that corruption in the greatest detail? Isn't it the same US government?

How is it that over five years, the left hand of Government cannot account for 600,684 barrels of oil (worth about J$5 billion) - or 44 per cent of the 1.5 billion barrels it uses in its normal operations - while the right hand cannot tot up the missing oil down to the last barrel? Is it that the left hand of Government does not know what the right hand is capable of doing? Could the left hand really not know that the right hand has the capacity to detect and compute exactly what they are doing?

The same Jamaican governments that appointed contractors general Greg Christie and Dirk Harrison, and auditors general Adrian Strachan and Pamela Monroe Ellis, who over the years have exposed a long list of corruption scandals, have also appointed the boards of management of Petrojam, NESoL, the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), and many other boards

of state entities that involve themselves in a repeating series of nepotism, breaching contracting and procurement guidelines, including improper hiring practices.

Can each successive administration and each new generation of politicians and board members credibly plead ignorance of governance best practices? I think not. It's all in the game called politics, where the players are both elected politicians and their private-sector donors.

People enter politics not to make things better for the citizens and residents of Jamaica, but to make things better for themselves. When on the political platform, politicians speak eloquently of transparency and accountability, but in Parliament, they make sure that there will be as little transparency and accountability as possible.

Why do members of the private sector give millions to politicians? Because they expect a hefty return on their investment.

One short-term way to reward political donors is to appoint them to public-sector boards like Petrojam, NESoL, and the PCJ. When these private-sector board members treat these state agencies as feeding trees, taking huge travel and subsistence allowances, and awarding millions in contracts without public tender, they basically dare the contractor general and the auditor general to 'catch me if you can'. But if 'you catch me, I still win, because all I do is resign, and go home with the spoils'.

Andrew Wheatley, the former minister, has announced that his Wakanda party was paid for by private donors, and that he will tap into his donors to return all the money spent on his surprise birthday cake and party - all well and good. But who are these people? Did any receive contracts from Petrojam or NESoL? We will never know, because these donations are made in secret. No transparency here!

Over the decades, contractors general and auditors general have detected and exposed a litany of corruption, but very few persons have ever been convicted of political malfeasance or fraud. This is not an accident.

Our politicians have made sure that contracting and procurement rules are only guidelines. Breaching them to benefit political donors, or family members, is not a criminal offence. It's all in the game of politics. 'Catch me if you can', but if 'you catch me, I still win, because you can't prosecute me'.

I call on Howard Mitchell, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), to do more than express righteous indignation at political corruption, which, in part, benefits his members. The PSOJ and its members must insist on full transparency in political donations, and must insist that breach of contracting and procurement guidelines attracts criminal penalties. Without the PSOJ playing the political game, it will mash up!

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to