Garnett Roper | Standout at what?
The article written by Erica Virtue, titled ‘Holness stands out…But crime and corruption bedevil JLP Gov’t four years later’, in The Sunday Gleaner (February 23, 2020) begs an important question. If an administration fails both at good governance and transparency, on the one hand, and at national security on the other hand, what remains for that administration to be successful in terms of national development? Or, put differently, if people are prepared to overlook corruption and are indifferent to the failure of the leader to make them safe, why then do they need a leader at all?
There has been a concerted attempt by the media and the punditocracy to lower the bar where the political expectations of Andrew Holness and his Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration are concerned. The coat of Teflon has been painted on for him by the media in relation to both crime and corruption so that nothing sticks to their man in Jamaica House.
On the question of crime, we have the longest-running states of public emergency (SOEs) ever in independent Jamaica. Despite this, murder continues with savagery and impunity all across the island, including places not far away from where soldiers and police are manning checkpoints in the midst of a SOE. Despite the fact that this is Andrew Holness’ signature, his crime-containment strategy, and he keeps expanding the number of them across the island. Despite the fact that there is statistical evidence to demonstrate that there are diminishing returns from the imposition of these SOEs.
The media are censuring stories of people whose rights are unjustly taken away and held unreasonably long in detention for no just cause. Despite all of this, there is little thoroughgoing analysis that is published that holds the administration accountable for the runaway murder rate and the fact that SOEs are doing precious little to bring criminals to justice or to contain the impunity with which violent criminals are acting.
While the traditional media do precious little to hold Holness’ feet to the fire, it goes out of its way to personalise things that relate to his political opposite. The way the traditional media treated with the good faith certificate that were signed by Peter Bunting while he was the minister of national security, one could be forgiven for concluding that Bunting had been at one with the members of the security forces that went to the home of Keith Clarke on that faithful night and Bunting was trying to stop them from being held responsible.
(To be complete, the Gleaner editorial did belatedly admit that the signing of the good faith certificate by Bunting was an administrative action, and that Bunting was not the national security minister at the time of the 2010 SOE, which provides the context in which Keith Clarke was killed.)
In this respect, therefore, the newspaper headline that hails Holness as a standout over against his political rivals is a form of media self-congratulation.
The Teflon coating for Holness is even more pronounced when it comes to the matter of public corruption. National security and the reduction of crime and violence are matters that rely on the development and implementation of policies, the enforcement of laws, and the focus and fiscal support given for the purpose of crime reduction; as such, the political administration has limited and blunt instruments at its disposal.
Blaming the PM for the deteriorating crime situation can be somewhat defused. This is not the case with corruption, and it is certainly not the case with the nature and extent of the corruption that has formed the record of the JLP administration from 2016-2020.
Former Contractor General Dirk Harrison described the framework developed by the Cabinet for 2016-17 de-bushing programme as a “corruption-enabling mechanism”. This is the charge that was made against the Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.
THE MOST CORRUPT
When a raid conducted by the Financial Investigation Division, in tandem with C-TOC, recovered J$85 million in cash as well as six high-end motor vehicles from an employee and a contractor from National Energy Solutions (NESol), the Holness administration responded by shutting down the agency.
There has been no investigation by the auditor general or any real attempt to hold public officials accountable, and no letting the chips fall where they may. Nothing really has happened, except to close down NESol. The death of NESol means the effective death of those investigations, except for throwing one or two persons under the bus. No complainant, no crime, especially when the Crown is reluctant to prosecute.
Petrojam has managed to kick up much more dust, but beside the odd resignation, complete with golden handshake, or, perhaps better, golden parachute; no one has been held accountable.
Former Cabinet Minister Andrew Wheatley, who had been a very active and high-profile Cabinet minister with responsibility for both NESol and Petrojam, has escaped with hardly a slap on the wrist.
Need I go on to the Caribbean Maritime University and the Ministry of Education, under the watch of Ruel Reid, and who faces criminal charge for the malfeasants, or worse, that took place?
Though one is not clear about the antecedents of the loss of his United States visa, Cabinet Minister Daryl Vaz has failed to honour the high standards he announced for himself. He declared that if his visa was not returned to him, he would step down from his Cabinet position. Holness has neither explained Vaz’s non-resignation nor required the honourable minister to honour his word.
Put it this way, the 1980-89 JLP administration ended its nine-year incumbency in office with the criminal conviction of J.A.G. Smith, a former Cabinet minister. That was the scandal to be associated with the JLP 1980s administration.
The PNP administration between 1989 and 2007 was stained by the Trafigura scandal, in which it is alleged that that Dutch oil-trading company made a donation to the PNP (political party) as kickback from the government contract. Real or invented, it is the standout scandal (corruption) associated with the 18-year ‘four peat’ PNP political administration.
The JLP administration of 2007-2011, led by Bruce Golding, had the Dudus scandal, when the JLP squandered all of its political capital in order to protect its political strongman from extradition.
Every administration, with the exception of the 2011-2016 PNP administration, has had one, real or imagined.
The Andrew Holness-led JLP administration has broken all previous record of corruption; it has had at least one scandalous act of corruption that is the rough equivalent of the J.A.G. Smith conviction for each year it has been in office between 2016 and 2020.
Of course Andrew Holness is a standout. He has presided over the most corrupt political administration in the history of this country.
Garnett Roper, JP, PhD, is president of Jamaica Theological Seminary. Email feedback to columns@firstname.lastname@example.org.