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Burke, Davies at odds as campaign funding scandal deepens

Published:Wednesday | August 31, 2016 | 8:00 AMJovan Johnson
Dr Omar Davies
Paul Burke
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The question of whether it is a People's National Party's (PNP) custom, while forming Government, to collect kickbacks from investors doing business with the country was brought to the surface yesterday as senior member Dr Omar Davies sought to defend his integrity over new revelations in the ongoing campaign-funding scandal.

The party that held state power in Jamaica for 23 of the last 30 years has been mired in a campaign-donations scandal, triggered by allegations in a leaked report by treasurer Norman Horne, that senior party members collected money from donors for the February general election and failed to turn it over.

Davies, seeking to clear his name, alleged that General Secretary Paul Burke suggested he collected sums under the "tradition" of large Chinese firms to pay a fee to "agents".

"I was informed that you [stated] explicitly that you had learnt that it is an established practice for large Chinese firms to pay an 'agent's fee', ranging from one per cent to 1.5 per cent of the total project cost," Davies said in a letter to Burke, questioning statements allegedly made by the latter at a party meeting in April.

The letter was sent through the office of Peter Bunting, an opposition member of parliament.

'NO KNOWLEDGE OF FEES'

Davies continued: "You claimed that it was customary that the agent would be named by the minister with portfolio responsibility for the relevant sector. You then specifically alluded to a particular large project, which was 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."

Saying Burke gave the impression he was the minister, Davies said he has "no knowledge of any fees or other payment which should have been turned over to the party's treasury [and] I have not collected any contribution".

Davies, who was transport and works minister from January 2012 to February this year, said his integrity was being questioned as a result of Burke's claims, and the general secretary should now outline all the facts.

Burke told The Gleaner he would not comment on the matter publicly, except to say: "When yuh throw stone inna pig sty and one halla, is that [pig]!"

Davies did not deny knowledge of the "established practice" in his letter, but when questioned by The Gleaner, said: "I have never [heard of it]."

Meanwhile, Mark Golding, who served as party treasurer from 2009 to 2013, said such a practice never existed during his tenure, and Burke should explain where his information came from.

"I was at the meeting and I heard and I was appalled. He wasn't saying anything which I heard of before and knew to be true. And I thought for him to be saying this without evidence was totally inappropriate," Golding said.

In addition, Golding, who said he was "very upset", declared that the assertions in the treasurer's report were not issues that existed before, especially after controls he said were put in place while he was treasurer and Bunting was general secretary.

The Gleaner reported on Sunday that one of five senior members fingered in the scandal got US$20 million (J$2.52 billion) from a foreign donor and did not hand over the money to the party.

Chinese investments in Jamaica have largely focused on physical infrastructure, and the Statistical Institute of Jamaica's data shows that China-Jamaica trade reached US$427 million in 2014, an increase of 78.7 per cent over 2010.

Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director of the National Integrity Action, said the reports of the kickback practice were a threat to Jamaica's democratic governance.

"This would be in direct contravention and breach of the law passed by the Jamaican Parliament to regulate campaign financing," he said, pointing out that Jamaicans "must demand the truth" from the PNP.

While Parliament has approved legislation banning foreign political donations, it has not been enacted, which means the practice is not yet illegal.

Davies' revelations come as the PNP battles in court to avoid answering questions about a $31 million donation by Dutch company Trafigura Beheer in 2006, just ahead of the 2007 general election.

The Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency has said it was monitoring information about the unfolding scandal while former Contractor General Greg Christie has called for the United States to start a probe.

Speaking during a party meeting on the weekend, Dr Peter Phillips said the PNP that he has been a part of since the late 1980s has been reduced to an embarrassment.

Party President Portia Simpson Miller has not spoken publicly on the issue, only stating, after a scholarship awards function she hosted yesterday, that she would have to "check" when questioned on the matter.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com