Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Gordon Robinson | Ode to drunken gamblers

Published:Sunday | September 4, 2016 | 9:00 AM

What began as a seamy story of alleged campaign funds misappropriation has mushroomed into a disgusting expose of political corruption.

As usual, the worst part of this escalating nastiness is that media, so schooled in gossip, have been infantile in their anxiety to point fingers at named politicians instead of focusing on the obviously disastrous national consequences.

Remember Trafigura?

From the moment PNP treasurer Norman Horne's report that senior PNP members received party campaign contributions and failed to turn them over became public, the red flags that should've been flying included:

What systemic safeguards were in place preventing criminally minded politicians from embezzling campaign funds?

Why didn't Horne make a report to the police? Why haven't the police started an immediate investigation?

Or are we operating like drunken gamblers always needing extra money to pay our personal bills?

"Friday evening, one more time.

Joy and confusion reigneth.

Ben Johnson jus' gaan; soon come.

In di fat lef' pocket

is the money from last week's sweat and tears

jus' come; soon gaan.

And di Crown an' Anchor Man

stan' up a di gate a mi workplace

wid him dice inna him han'

and a wicked old grin 'pon him long face.

And fi reach pon I bus stop

mi haffe pass di betting shop."

Remember Trafigura?

Have we reached the stage where a written report of such egregious alleged corruption is simply treated as talk-show-circuit fodder and not of police interest? What have we become?

Remember Trafigura?

Then Omar Davies stepped in (also in writing) and it became 'wusserer'. Making, in my opinion, revelations of the most reprehensible fiscal atrocities, Omar wrote an August 30 open letter to PNP General Secretary Paul Burke, which stated, in part:

"... Several party members have reported to me that at an NEC meeting held a few months ago, you stated the PNP's efforts in the elections were hampered by inadequate financing as some senior party members hadn't passed on FUNDS FROM DONORS

[my emphasis] to the central treasury.

"... You went on to state explicitly you had learnt it's an established practice for large Chinese firms to pay an 'agent's fee' ranging from 1% to 1.5% of total project cost ... . You then specifically alluded to a particular large project being implemented and asserted

that based on the level of expenditure on that project, the 'agent's fee' would have amounted to between US$10 million and US$12 million. The link, which you sought to establish to the PNP's campaign financing, was that A SIGNIFICANT PERCENTAGE OF THIS AMOUNT SHOULD HAVE BEEN TURNED OVER TO THE PARTY. [Again, my emphasis.]"

"What a marshal law tonight

a go gwaan a yard tonight.

A wey mi a go tell mi wife when I get home?"

I heard Omar Davies (radio interview) say he personally confronted Burke with these allegations, which weren't denied. Omar said Burke responded: "I didn't name any names." Burke hasn't made any public statement on the matter except to regurgitate his standard line about washing party dirty linen in public.

"Elsaida, no mash up di one

boot inna mi head!

Elsaida, a money fi fix it an'

mi caan buy bread.

Elsaida di money well short

an' mi know it hard.

But no bodda wid di

floor show;

no bodda wid di floor show;

no bodda wid di floor show inna di tenement yard!"

If Omar Davies' allegations are true, this is an unmitigated disaster that could destroy Jamaican governments' credibility. If Omar Davies' allegations are true, Burke learnt of "an established practice" for "large Chinese firms to pay an 'agent's fee' ranging from 1% to 1.5% of the total project cost."

 

Allegations

 

If Omar Davies' allegations are true, Burke referred to these firms as "donors" and alluded to a specific project from which "the 'agent's fee' would have amounted to between US$10 million and US$12 million." Most shockingly and disgracefully of all, if Omar Davies' allegations are true, Burke alleges that in his opinion, "a significant percentage of this amount should have been turned over to the party".

Jesus H. Christ on a Japanese crutch! The PNP general secretary isn't scolding unnamed party members for corruptly arranging kickbacks from government contracts. No, that's "an established practice". According to Omar Davies, he's reprimanding Comrades for not sharing the bounty with the party. All PNP wants is its share!

"Friday evening one more time;

Haffe pay Aunt Joyce fi

di lunch las' week.

Mus pay dis day!

An' mi have a 'smalls'

fi di few hot beer

down a Sandy's Bar.

Mus pay dis day!

And is always a mistake

Pansy forward fi

her water rate

and at least a eyeglass man

mi haffe put inna she han'.

An' if she nuh get 'ar share

everybody else betta beware

What a marshal law tonight

a go gwaan a yard tonight.

A wey mi a go tell mi wife

when I get home?"

Music icon Glenroy Michael Anthony Archangelo Smith (aka 'Ernie'), another deserving of the OM, wrote and recorded Elsaida (an ode to hardworking gamblers, drinkers and womanisers who never keep enough back for wife/family) for his 30th anniversary album. Thanks to the beautiful and talented Patria-Kaye Aarons, one of only eight Jamaicans selected to participate in President Obama's Young Leaders of the Americas initiative, for inspiring today's column by her excellent questions to Omar Davies on Tuesday and by reminding me of this seminal song. Patria, once again, you've set yourself apart.

Remember Trafigura!

Last chance, Paul. Say it ain't so! Please tell us Omar has it all wrong. But in the midst of Burke's deafening silence, I again ask, WHERE IS OUR POLICE FORCE? Why haven't the police already questioned Burke with regard to the source of his information and for him to identify TO THE POLICE those party members engaged in the most horrendous, nationally debilitating corruption as apparently alleged by Paul Burke?

The last time PNP had an extended stay in government, it was alleged that political donations were made to the PNP by Trafigura Beheer in exchange for the award of government contracts.

At the time, Bobby Pickersgill referred to the $31-million donation as "chicken feed". When asked about it, Portia Simpson Miller replied to the effect: "Don't ask me. Ask the PNP." Ten years later, PNP officials still avoid testifying on behalf of a Dutch prosecution of the donor.

Have we NO SHAME? Was Trafigura part of what Paul Burke has called "an established practice"? Are these examples the tip of the Iceberg? When will the police get off the schneid and start investigating what are clear allegations of criminality?

 

Defending reputation

 

Omar Davies, who appeared more concerned with defending a perceived personal attack than the big picture, says he hasn't been approached by any Chinese firm; hasn't appointed any "agent"; hasn't collected any campaign contribution from any Chinese company; knows zero of any "fee" belonging to PNP. I believe him. Based on my personal and professional relationship with Omar Davies, I'm confident he's a rare bird, namely, an honest politician. I believe it's his political naivete that's cost him higher poll ratings and caused him to deliver honest statements like "run wid it" that's been the bane of his political existence. It's my considered opinion that Omar Davies would rather eat live scorpions than be remotely associated with corruption.

But, everything Burke is alleged to have said could be true without Omar Davies having a clue. These things are done by 'surrogates', either unknown to honest ministers or to protect corrupt ministers' "deniability". The spoils are shared among co-conspirators, including the party.

PAY ATTENTION! I see you nodding off in the audience. If Omar is accurate, Paul Burke has graphically described a dirty, corrupt scheme to transfer huge sums of YOUR MONEY from the Consolidated Fund (without the "agent's fee" contract sum would be less) to greedy politicians, political hangers-on, and political parties. And don't believe only PNP does it. To be fair, of the past 26 years, we've spent 21 under PNP Government so if this is "an established practice", it was more likely established by the PNP. But has the JLP not also cashed in when opportunity knocked? Isn't it revealing no JLP dog has barked at midnight at this PNP intruder?

Until we fix this, we can't allow, disguised as 'campaign finance reform', the transfer of more tax dollars to politicians for corrupt campaigns; to win corrupt elections; to extend a corrupt system of governance that allows the election winner to 'take all'. Wake up Jamaica! Do we play musical governments forever? Or do we insist on radical constitutional change aimed at eliminating widespread corruption? If Omar Davies is right, SOMEBODY should go to jail. Any bets that'll happen?

Peace and love.

• Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to

columns@gleanerjm.com.