Thu | Jul 18, 2019

Mark Wignall | Will corruption follow us into 2019?

Published:Sunday | December 30, 2018 | 12:00 AM
The Petrojam oil refinery in Kingston.

Even the most well-seasoned politician who has seen the underbelly of governmental corruption and knows of its, seemingly, systemic permanence will readily agree that corruption and failed state are partners in the same long waltz.

I am not among those who share the view that Jamaica is a basket case in terms of its socioeconomic potential and the development of its people. I am neither among the optimists who believe that Vision 2030 is a certainty, nor do I believe that Jamaica is hopelessly relegated to a state of permanent backwardness. But I agree with most that governmental corruption directly hinders the development of the state.

It does so in, basically, three ways. It supports and encourages waste (surreptitious diversion of funds to cronies and eventually back to those in power). It causes politicians to create policies that are friendly to big-money funders of the party in power. And, three, rogue politicians, on a corruption tear, will lose track of 'the people's objective' and spend too much of their time fattening their own pockets.

The recent Petrojam scandals, which captured much of our time in bar and corner-shop talk, home discussions, and commentary of all sorts, is just the latest pointer showing us that how we have dealt with revelations of governmental corruption may very well be a part of the fuel that triggers the next bout of malfeasance.

Slaps on the wrist and time in repentance while away from one's post is not the ideal outcome for those perpetrating such acts, and those actions can hardly be seen as justice in the wider scheme of things. Pickpockets are locked up, and it wasn't so long ago that young men were incarcerated for smoking ganja.

Apart from one token politician of the 1980s, the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) JAG Smith Jr being sent to prison along with his PS, Probyn Aiken, no others have officially fallen afoul of the law although the back-stories have been many and the sources most certain of the names and the scheming.

On the highly optimistic assumption that most of our elected representatives and the vast majority of board members attached to government entities are law abiding citizens carrying out their duties, it is in their own interest that they bring pressure to bear to unclog this well-compacted mess bringing profit to a powerful few while stifling the nation.

More than anything else, increased transparency and open accountability will give good politicians the freedom to free themselves from the perceived stink of corruption, that is, if that is how our people see it.


Marching against corruption


Recently, Reuters carried a news item which stated, 'Tens of thousands of Mongolians took to the streets on Thursday to protest against corruption in the top echelons of politics, braving temperatures that dropped below minus 20 degrees Celsius in the capital, Ulaanbaatar.'

We have had riots and marches in this country before and, political action by opposition parties hungrily vying for power has brought the country to crippling stops for more than a few days. The churches have led marches, and many have yawned afterwards, but we have not quite reached to the stage where our people, short on patience and angry at policymakers, are prepared to take to the streets on murders and corruption, oftentimes both enjoying closeness with each other.

And just recently, too, a former prime minister of Pakistan has been sent to prison for being found guilty of taking funds under the table from big business. Earlier, I suggested that our people may not be as critical of corruption to the same extent as its importance is carried on front-page news in this country.

"All the politicians are corrupt. I say all because even those who are clean know of it, but they have to keep their mouths shut," one well-known political activist told me weeks ago. A former representative told me last week, "You and I discussed this a year or so ago. We know that the head of a key agency in this country was corrupt. It seems that our people don't care too much about corruption."

I was 15 when we had the Chinese Riots of 1965. In 1968 there took place the Rodney riots. In the late 1970s, a group allied to the Opposition JLP took to the streets and eventually mob rule took over for about two days. In the 1980s the opposition People's National Party (PNP) led a march or two. In April 1999, street rabble and the JLP opposing found common cause during three days of burning, blocking roads, looting of business places, and the shutting down of the Kingston Metropolitan Area.

No, there was never anything for corruption, and, it seems wasteful for us to be holding our breaths waiting on that to happen.

My lawyer friend emailed me the following. 'I enjoyed reading your December 16th column. My view is the PNP is desperate. First, Mr Phillips is out of "touch" He should have been leader during the time Mrs Simpson Miller was leader of the PNP and prime minister. He is now a man from an earlier time. Mr Holness looks fresh, in tune and ready to lead. Mr Phillips, he looks like a boxer who now has no business being in the ring. Mr Phillips is a blessing to the JLP as Eddie Seaga was a blessing to the PNP.

'Voting to end the SOE states of emergency) because of concerns about citizens rights is disingenuous. Yes, I am sure there are abuses and they are wrong and unacceptable, but the SOE is reducing crime.

'The PNP should have asserted they would vote to extend one more period of three months and by then the government and police must have a crime plan in place as SOEs cannot be in place for extended periods of time. The extra three months is important as it puts more pressure on criminals and forces them to come out so to speak as they are getting hungry.

'I think the PNP will not come out on the right side of this issue and you know I am a PNP supporter. But the current leader is not up to mark. I think Mr Bunting should be PNP leader. But he was intimidated and pushed off the stage. In addition, I am uncomfortable with the nepotism in the JLP and PNP. For Mr Phillips's son to be a PNP vice-president having done nothing is foolishness. What are his credentials? Dad is the leader of the PNP?'


Brown water after lock-offs


Two weekends ago, there was an overnight lock-off of water carried by and through the Forest Hills water treatment plant. I live within the ambit of that treatment plant, so I was affected. It didn't help that the reasons were due to an outage of the JPS power supply.

When the power and the water returned, I was shocked at the 'carrot' colour of the water flowing from my kitchen pipe. I noticed, however, that in three hours, orange-coloured sediments had settled to the base of a glass container I had filled with the water. I suspected it was iron oxide (known as rust particles).

My visit to the Forest Hills plant confirmed that. "What we do here is use chlorine to deal with coliform bacteria. We use about four pounds per day," said a supervisor on the site, who also confirmed my suspicions that it was iron oxide in the water.

"It is just a fact that many parts of the NWC underground system is old piping. Metal piping. As we come across problems now we change, as budget allows us, to plastic piping," said another supervisor closely attached to road crew work. "The rust that you see is the water pressure dislodging it and bringing that discolouration. I know it doesn't look good but it rarely happens and it will not kill you."

Well, gee, thanks for that.

- Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs commentator Email feedback to and