Mon | Oct 21, 2019

Peter Espeut | A deficit of anti-corruption law

Published:Friday | February 8, 2019 | 9:56 AM
Paula Llewellyn

Every new prime minister commits their government to transparency and accountability, but 57 years after Independence, we are yet to see any politician held criminally responsible for political corruption; yet if a poor, hungry man steals a few ackees from the grounds of King’s House, he ends up in jail.

Part of the reason for this is that the politicians who make the laws so far have passed legislation to suit themselves, making it difficult to detect or prosecute corruption.

Some years ago, a commissioner of lands improperly transferred government land to his wife and relatives, and to various politicians, but when the corruption was discovered and exposed, it was found that no laws existed to cancel or reverse the corrupt transactions so that the land could be returned to the government (which holds it in trust for the people). The only penalty was that the commissioner of lands resigned; everyone kept their ill-gotten land.

On March 24, 2015, the contractor general tabled a report in Parliament, finding that the People’s National Party (PNP) mayor of Lucea was guilty of nepotism, conflicts of interest and impropriety in the award of government contracts. According to the report, the mayor awarded 22 contracts worth almost $4 million to family members and friends between March 2012 and April 2014; these included her spouse, daughter, son, nephew-in-law, sister, brother, sister-in-law, brother-in-law and niece.

The following month, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, ruled that although there was overwhelming evidence of nepotism involving the award of contracts to the mayor’s relatives, nepotism was not an offence known to Jamaican criminal law, and declined to lay any charges. After a public outcry (including from myself), in November she reversed that decision, and a file was sent to the police to investigate the matter.

When the (by now) former mayor was charged with misconduct in public office and breaches of the public-sector procurement regulations, she pleaded not guilty before the Hanover Parish Court. I am not aware that anything has come of the case.

She should have been charged with more, but stronger corruption charges did not – and still do not – exist in Jamaican law.

The PNP had an Integrity Commission at the time, but I am not aware that she was brought before it, or that any finding was made against her. She was not required to resign as a councillor.

LEGACY WILL BE INDISTINGUISHABLE

Shortly after the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) came to power in 2016, the human resources manager at Petrojam, appointed under the PNP, was summarily, and terminated with no severance package. Her politically connected replacement was improperly hired because the post was not advertised, and she was a connected party, being on the board of the parent company.

She was hired despite not having the required qualifications (master’s degree), and at a salary higher than her (more qualified) predecessor; then her probation period was abbreviated, and her salary was retroactively doubled. She was not hired on contract, but permanently, so that if the government changed and she was fired, she could sue, and walk away with multimillions, plus costs.

Then she hired her unqualified brother – nepotism again – against company policy.

When the scandal of her improper hiring and salary scale was discovered and exposed, she could not be fired because she had a binding contract. There still is no law against nepotism in Jamaica, so she did nothing illegal. Why was her termination arrangement calculated based on her inappropriate salary? It has every appearance of being hush money.

And no one at Petrojam (board or staff) can be criminally charged because hiring an unqualified person, shortening her probation, and doubling her salary is not a criminal offence. And there is no legal means to terminate someone improperly hired.

Both parties have supported corruption by passing patently ineffective anti-corruption laws. Unless he acts soon, the legacy of Andrew Holness will be indistinguishable from his corrupt predecessors.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.