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'It is looking really bad' - Private-sector officials unwilling to fund political parties in light of PNP scandal

Published:Thursday | September 8, 2016 | 12:00 AMRomario Scott
Richard Byles

Coming out of Tuesday's emergency meeting called by the influential Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), players in the sector are threatening not to ink a single cheque to either of the nation's two political parties unless issues related to the implementation of the campaign finance legislation are addressed.

The meeting was triggered by a campaign finance scandal that blew up in the face of the People's National Party (PNP) three weeks ago with no near ending in sight.

The PNP this week confirmed that the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) had launched an investigation into allegations of a practice of receiving kickbacks while in government.


OCG summonses


Just days after the OCG served summonses for senior PNP officials to provide answers, at least two private sector company executives yesterday signalled that they would suspend donations to both political parties until their concerns are addressed.

Sagicor boss Richard Byles told The Gleaner that he could not tolerate (the scandal).

"Based on what I hear, things look bad. I try not to prejudge, but based on what I hear, it is looking really bad," Byles said.

"I don't think we can tolerate that. In the circumstances and in all conscience, I do not know how we could give support."

Also putting down his foot is the man who first called for the emergency meeting to take place, Don Wehby, the CEO of the GraceKennedy Group.

"I am leaning towards what Richard has said in terms of no further political contribution unless a firm timetable is made on when this is going to be operational," Wehby said in support of Byles' strong position.

It is hoped that the threat of the cut-off of funds will force the Government into quick action to operationalise the legislation that was passed earlier this year.


Supports investigation


The PSOJ, in a statement to the media yesterday, said it supported the OCG's investigation but wanted a "speedy conclusion to these investigations and that whatever is necessary should be done to bring credibility and transparency to the campaign finance process".

Wehby called for the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) to intervene in the investigation, arguing that it would bring credibility to the outcome.

At the same time, The Gleaner understands that the MOCA is on standby to join the OCG's investigation.

An official connected with the investigation, who asked not to be identified, indicated that as soon as the OCG has covered most of its ground work, the expectation is that the MOCA will get involved.

"MOCA will be involved as soon as the OCG has done most of their work. Things will then be passed on and the MOCA will take it from there," the official said.

When The Gleaner contacted embattled general secretary of the People's National Party Paul Burke for a response to Byles' declaration, he refused to comment.

His counterpart, the Jamaica Labour Party's Dr Horace Chang, did not answer calls placed to his cell phone.