Editorial | Daryl Vaz, again
A terse press release announcing that Minister Daryl Vaz has been stripped of his land and environment duties will not do it for us, Mr Prime Minister.
For a prime minister who promised to govern with transparency, we feel, Sir, that you owe the citizens of Jamaica an explanation. You ought to say clearly why you have decided to punish Mr Vaz if you want to restore some faith in a political system that has earned the scorn of so many of its citizens.
For our part, we interpret this to mean that the prime minister has lost confidence in the ability of Mr Vaz to carry out his land and environment responsibility but feels okay with his managing duties relating to water, housing, and job creation.
Loads of allegations have been flying around regarding the attempt by Mr Vaz to lease some seven acres of land within the buffer zone of the Blue and John Crow Mountains, a World Heritage Site, for construction of log cabins to take advantage of the Airbnb market. We are not going to fuel speculation or indulge in innuendo, but the prime minister has acted, and he must have good reasons for doing so. Amid the objections and criticisms, Mr Vaz withdrew his bid.
That the deal was even contemplated has troubled the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET). In a social media post, JET said: “The fact that this was even considered speaks to numerous underlying structural and legislative problems associated with protected-area management and environmental conservation in Jamaica.”
The glaring question we must ask is whether there has been an official probe into the way Mr Vaz went about procuring the lease, and if so, what were the findings? If his actions warranted a downgrading of his duties, does he still enjoy the confidence of his Cabinet colleagues?
Questions of impropriety by public officials over many years led to the establishment and ongoing refinement of an Integrity Commission, with the specific role of rooting out corruption. This body has the ability to ask awkward questions of politicians and public servants for which answers are necessary to defer the level of public mistrust. So is there a role for the Integrity Commission in this current land-lease saga?
It is not the first time that Mr Vaz has become embroiled in controversy. He came under public scrutiny when former Contractor General Dirk Harrison criticised the handling of the sale of Rooms on the Beach, Ocho Rios, for the paltry sum of US$4.6 million when the other bids were as high as US$13.5 million. Mr Harrison concluded that the deal was an insult to Jamaicans.
STRICT RULES NEEDED
Additionally, the country is still owed an explanation as to why the United States government has placed Mr Vaz on a “no-fly” list. In the absence of an explanation, people are left to draw whatever inference they wish, with the result that the vilest of rumours have been circulating. Mr Vaz promised last year that if he was not successful in having his visa restored, he would resign. There is no indication that he now has an American visa.
Lately, we have seen where politicians confronted by allegations of wrongdoing or impropriety have been relying on the “bad mind” and “grudgeful” defence to deflect criticism and scrutiny. It is an ugly tactic, and politicians should stop using it. Politicians must answer to the people for their stewardship.
This latest controversy will pass, but how will the next one be handled? There needs to be strict rules to rein in wily politicians who may seek to advance their own interests at the expense of the people they are meant to serve. Failure to provide clear guidelines, to avoid conflict of interest and be transparent, will only betray the electorate and undermine faith in our democracy.