Sat | Dec 14, 2019

Peter Espeut | Wanted: Whistle-blowers!

Published:Friday | November 22, 2019 | 12:14 AM
Trump

The world watched during the Mueller investigation to see whether evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to interfere with the 2016 United States (US) presidential election would be exposed. But in vain!

It turns out that the US Justice Department has internal protocols forbidding the indictment of sitting US presidents. Almost 250 years ago, the US repudiated the idea of monarchy and became a republic, but clearly, it treats its president like a monarch, and the sitting president is playing it for all he’s got.

But a US president can be impeached. If seriously improper behaviour can be proven, the House of Representatives can impeach him, but he cannot be removed from office unless the Senate votes to do so.

The origin of the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump currently under way in the US originates in information provided to the inspector-general for the intelligence community by a serving officer in the US Central Intelligence Agency. US intelligence officers are sworn to secrecy, but US law provides a route by which they can ‘blow the whistle’: against corrupt government officials by secretly providing damning information to an independent oversight authority, who can then act on it.

US law encourages whistle-blowers and protects their identities. The office of the inspector-general for the intelligence community is insulated from political interference. Not even the US attorney-general or the Justice Department can compel its to reveal the sources of its information. This independence and insulation from the political directorate is the secret of its success.

Readers may remember that the most profound scandal to hit the People’s National Party (PNP) for many years was the result of information provided by a Jamaican whistle-blower. In 2006, Dutch firm Trafigura Beheer transferred $31 million into a PNP-related bank account, and a bank employee blew the whistle on the transaction.

Was this a quid pro quo?

At a press conference in October 2006 at PNP headquarters, General Secretary Colin Campbell told journalists that it was a political donation: “They made the offer. They said that they know elections are imminent in Jamaica and they are intending to make a contribution.”

Trafigura Beheer was the beneficiary of oil-lifting contracts with the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica. Contractor General Greg Christie declared that he found no evidence to indicate that the oil-lifting contracts had Cabinet approval; neither were they endorsed by the National Contracts Commission.

THERE IS STILL TIME!

It is against Dutch law for a Dutch company to make political donations; Trafigura Beheer said the money was part of a commercial agreement. Dutch police believed Trafigura Beheer had bribed Jamaican public officials, and on November 20, 2007, Jamaica’s Parliament passed a resolution giving Dutch investigators permission to probe the donation to the PNP. The PNP has resisted, and the matter is still under investigation.

We would have never known about this questionable donation if it wasn’t for the actions of a Jamaican whistleblower, who was subsequently fired. Jamaica has no legislation to protect whistle-blowers or to encourage persons to blow the whistle on corruption. But such persons are needed today more than ever.

I applauded the minister of health when he banned smoking in public places – a blow struck for health and wellness – but then, shortly afterwards, without any public debate, the same Government decriminalised the possession (and therefore the smoking) of small amounts of marijuana. To me, it seems contradictory. Clearly, special interests had successfully lobbied government officials.

Was there a quid pro quo?

A whistle-blower in the right place could have spilled the beans. There is still time!

Prior to 2015, copyright protection in Jamaica expired after 50 years. In 2015, without any public discussion, this was changed to 99 years! Clearly, special interests had successfully lobbied government officials.

Was there a quid pro quo?

A whistle-blower in the right place could have spilled the beans. There is still time!

The trouble is that Jamaica has no legislation to protect whistle-blowers or to encourage persons to blow the whistle on corruption. In whose interest is this?

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