Wed | Jun 19, 2019

Alfred Dawes | Jamaican car wash needed

Published:Sunday | March 17, 2019 | 12:12 AM
In this February 4, 2015, file photo, workers whose company is contracted by Brazil’s state oil company Petrobras, throw their work uniforms at the company’s building headquarters to protest corruption, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The Petrojam Refinery.
Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis
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On a visit to Jamaica, a Brazilian friend of mine inquired about a local news story. It was about another corruption scandal. Approximately US$2 million had been misappropriated.

In answering, I droned endlessly about the high levels of corruption in our politics and how it is affecting the development of our country.

He scoffed. “Your politicians are amateurs. They steal two million dollars. In Brazil, when our politicians steal, they take twenty billion dollars!”

He was speaking, of course, about the Petrobras scandal that has been a turning point in that populous South American country, given the depth of corruption the ongoing investigation has uncovered. The investigation, called Lava Jato or Operation Car Wash (after the initial money laundering activities at a Brasilia car wash and gas station), has expanded to look into the largest bribery and kickback scheme in the world.

Three Brazilian presidents have been implicated in the scheme with one, Lula da Silva, currently serving a prison sentence on bribery charges. He is joined by the former richest man in Brazil, Eike Batista; former speaker of the Lower House of the national Congress, Eduardo Cunha; dozens of Cabinet officials, senators, and top executives.

Billions of dollars in fines have been levied on several multinational corporations. The investigation found that executives at Petrobras, the state-controlled oil company, had, for years, been accepting bribes in return for awarding contracts to construction firms at inflated prices.

The corruption went on for years and through successive governments. Politicians enabled the corruption, with funds kicked back for campaign financing and personal enrichment. The web is tangled, and the confirmed involvement of many politicians is still elusive.

The investigation is being carried out by the Curitiba Branch of the Federal Police of Brazil, with strong independent judicial oversight.

During my sojourns in Brazil, I lived in Curitiba, a clean, orderly city with beautiful parks and friendly people. Discussions at churrascarias and over feijoada invariably led to condemnation of the corruption that existed in their country.

The honest, hard-working people were sick to their stomach of the blatant corruption and lavish lifestyles of politicians and their cronies.

It came as no surprise to me to learn of the heavy involvement of Curitibanos, especially Judge Sergio Moro, in the drive to ferret out the corrupt individuals and bring them to justice.

With the level of discontent I witnessed, it was only left for a spark to ignite the flames in these frustrated people with zero tolerance for the systemic corruption in their political and economic systems.

CREATE A SIMILAR ENVIRONMENT

Lava Jato would not have happened if the Government had not appointed an independent attorney general in 2013. The new-found independence and power of the judiciary allowed incorruptible judges such as Sérgio Moro to go after powerful business leaders and politicians without fear of backlash.

Even the suspicious circumstances surrounding a plane crash that claimed the life of a Supreme Court judge leading the campaign failed to stop the investigation.

If we are to clean up our country, we must create a similar environment for independent investigators to carry out their work without political interference.

There is no secret that two out of the three branches of government are incapable of addressing corruption. The Executive has, time and time again, shown itself to be presiding over a kleptocracy.

The last three prime ministers have promised a potpourri of transparency, accountability, and zero tolerance for corruption during their inaugural addresses. And yet we are currently witnessing blatant acts of state-sponsored corruption that leave even JLP loyalists furious.

The opposition can hardly expect to get any traction with its anti-corruption stance as their utterances are rightly met with “PNP do it too”.

The average Jamaican has been fooled so many times beyond the point of “shame on me” that they have resigned themselves to the fact that no prime minister, despite their campaign utterances, will ever take the lead in stamping out corruption in their administration.

We cannot reasonably expect the legislature to act with probity when at the time of writing, there are sitting members of parliament with allegations of fraud and murder hanging over their heads.

Additionally, there seems to be a bipartisan consensus to limit the extent of the Proceeds of Crime Act as it can expose politicians past and present to interrogation as to how they came to acquire their undeclared assets with their declared incomes.

There appears on the surface in recent times to be a gentleman’s agreement that no party will jail any politician, whether on the government or opposition benches. No panel, committee, office, or organisation set up by the Executive or Legislative branches of the Government to police themselves will ever be empowered enough to tackle the corruption monster. To do so it would invite disgrace into Gordon House.

EMPOWER THE JUDICIARY

The only way we can truly tackle this corruption monster is to empower the third branch of government – the Judiciary.

With the auditor general and contractor general only able to recommend prosecutions after probing suspected instances of corruption, we have only a grossly underfunded and understaffed Office of the director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to look into these recommendations.

The attorney general is always appointed by the Government and is immediately compromised by party loyalties the moment they take their oath of office. The difficulty in having an independent attorney general is that constitutionally, that officer is the senior-most legal advisor to the Government. But that fact does not prevent the empowerment of judges to spearhead aspects of corruption investigations independent of political interference.

In the case of the United States, the special prosecutors who investigate impropriety, even in the office of the president, are within the Department of Justice. With the understanding that no sitting president will be charged for crimes committed during or before the oath of office is taken, the penalty is generally impeachment.

But even as the end result is a matter of debate, especially with the current US president, the process of unhindered investigation of the highest office in the land is admirable. Even without an independently appointed attorney general, the special prosecutors are free to look into any form of corruption, whether political or economic, and bring charges against those who are found liable. They have special investigators drawn from various fields who are able to investigate virtually any crime, financial or otherwise.

Political interference is almost certain to be met with repercussions. This, of course, occurs in a 240-year-old democracy.

We have to create our version within the constraints of the Westminster system of government.

The auditor general is appointed by the Public Services Commission and is a civil servant, not a politically tainted individual. With the mandate to investigate impropriety in public bodies, the potential to have the office of the auditor general spearhead all corruption investigations already exists.

The main hurdle is that the auditor general reports to Parliament can only make recommendations for criminal prosecution in cases of proven corruption. It is then left to the discretion of corruptible individuals to determine the next steps.

PEOPLE’S REVOLUTION

What if we were to empower the office of the auditor general to investigate and recommend directly to the equally empowered DPP to prosecute all suspected criminal cases of corruption involving state agencies, individuals, and companies conducting business with the Government?

What if the auditor general was also able to initiate civil litigation to recover funds from individuals or corporations that are guilty of breaches of the Staff Orders or terms of contracts leading to material loss to the Government and, by extension, to us the taxpayers?

The ability to offer plea deals to those indicted would give us the opportunity to see how far the rabbit hole goes in the realm of state-sponsored corruption.

I posit that our best chance of reigning in corruption lies with this or a similar model.

None of the existing Executive or Legislative appointed bodies or individuals are willing to pursue our Jamaican Lava Jato at Petrojam because too many higher-ups spanning multiple administrations will fall.

The police force is either too corrupt or impotent why they are not able to make significant arrests in blatant incidents of fraud and racketeering.

We need a people’s revolution to bring about the constitutional changes needed to once and for all stamp out corruption and put Jamaica on the path to peace and economic independence. And we need it now.

The stench emitting from Petrojam, the rumours of mother ships anchored off our coastline with bad gas from Venezuela, and the multibillion-dollar petroleum stealing racket in Montego Bay are just a few examples of state-enabled or sponsored corruption. Corruption that has stymied economic growth and exacerbated inequalities in our society, contributing to the high crime levels seen.

The rapid economic growth seen in African countries with truly transformational leaders who are waging wars on corruption is enough evidence to show that we as a people can also rise to take our place as the jewel of the Caribbean.

We need to take control of our destiny in this moment when we the country are so angry at the status quo. The world is miles ahead of us in this regard, and by virtue of our apathy, we fall further behind with each successive scandal.

We must demand our own Jamaican Lava Jato. If acquiescence is not forthcoming from the ruling class, it will eventually be taken by force.

My thoughts on how to achieve this peaceful revolution is the topic of discussion in my next piece.

 

- Dr Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic and weight loss surgeon; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; Senior Medical Officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and info@islandlaparoscopy.com.