Fri | Oct 30, 2020

Nepotism, cronyism run Jamaica - Stakeholders say the practice is deeply entrenched in politics, business

Published:Sunday | July 12, 2020 | 12:29 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
Ronald Thwaites, Kingston Central Member of Parliament
Ronald Thwaites, Kingston Central Member of Parliament

Jamaica’s political apparatus has operated and functioned on nepotism and cronyism since independence, but until lawmakers enact legislation to make the practice illegal, no amount of inflammatory language from state commissions will make a difference, stated social commentator Dr Paul Ashley.

Nepotism (the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs and contracts) and cronyism (the appointment of friends and associates to positions of authority, without proper regard to their qualifications) have long dominated Jamaica’s political and business culture, said the straight-talking, no-holds-barred Ashley last week.

“So what do we want to do, strip politicians of the ability to have a say in who gets work? Then what? Who is going to vote if there is no direct or indirect benefits? Do we have another system that lawmakers should use to keep their constituents happy?” he questioned.

His comments came in wake of the recent revelation about the adverse pronouncement by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn against People’s National Party (PNP) St Ann South East Member of Parliament Lisa Hanna. Although finding nothing criminal, the DPP cited the MP for nepotism and cronyism in the award of contracts for work done in her constituency.

Llewellyn, in her 2019 ruling said , inter alia, that it was reasonable to form the view that the St Ann Municipal Corporation was being used as a vehicle through which PNP cronies were awarded Constituency Development Funds (CDF) contracts, with negligent or inadequate supervision as to their execution, “which potentially amounts to egregious breaches of the Government of Jamaica procurement policy guidelines ...”

“... Known supporters, associates, or affiliates of the PNP disproportionately benefited from the award of contracts ...,” it added.

Investigations by the then Office of the Contractor General (OCG) focused on 53 directly single sourced contracts awarded by the municipal body between 2011 and 2015. The contracts, valued at $13.3 million, were largely related to debushing and drain-cleaning works. Hanna told the OCG that she selected the contractors because they “proved to be trustworthy”.

NO ONE IS CLEAN

“Nepotism and cronyism are the chief executive of the country’s operating system across the board. Why are we pretending that we are stupid? I go further, I am asking one politician, past or present, who has never recommended or selected individuals for work, to hold up their hands,” Ashley challenged.

Successive administrations have been plastered by nepotism and cronyism for decades. Millions in international funding for anti-corruption measures have done little to tame the monster.

While addressing an Area Council Three meeting in Palmer’s Cross, Clarendon, Prime Minister Andrew Holness spoke of the entrenchment of corruption, and chided the PNP for viewing corruption as a political issue.

The Jamaica Party leader fingered the PNP, stating that when it was in government, several corruption issues emerged, and said that “corruption was not a partisan issue, but rather a general social problem nationally” that his party is addressing internally.

Ashley said politicians have long played tit for tat on the issue that has been standard operating procedure nationwide.

Dr Jermaine McCalpin, the former chair of the African and African-American Studies Program at New Jersey City University, said nepotism is one dimension of corruption.

“In terms of the discussion about patron-client relationship, there are many dimensions of corruption. If we look at Transparency International’s notion of corruption, nepotism is there. Bribery, kickbacks and trading in influence are there. Those are the dimensions of corruption. So if we think of corruption as the use of public or political office for private power of oneself or one’s associates, then we may have to give a variation between a legal and ethical definition of corruption,” he argued.

“So nepotism is one dimension of corruption, even if it is not legal. Corruption is corruption. What we are doing is linguistic gymnastics to say because the DPP said it’s not criminal, then it wasn’t corruption. There are ethical dimensions of corruption.”

EVERYBODY DOES IT

Michael Williams, who chairs the National Democratic Movement (NDM), said nepotism and cronyism are the first order of business in Jamaica.

“The politics we practise has its epicentre in nepotism and cronyism. Remember the comments of former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, where he characterised Jamaican politics as the fight for scarce benefits and political spoils carried on by hostile tribes which seem to be perpetually at war? Patterson did not endorse it, but he knew how the system operates. It is the same system that operates today,” stated Williams.

“Similarly, former PNP general secretary Maxine Henry Wilson characterised politics as being about who gets what, when, where, and how. “It is the same thing we have elevated to nepotism and cronyism. Everybody does it. Hanna’s crime is that she was brought under the microscope. So she was adjudicated but not found criminally liable.”

NDM has been the most viable of all the third parties to have contested general elections since independent Jamaica.

... MPs are always asked to recommend a contractor – Thwaites

Except for Kingston Central Member of Parliament Ronald Thwaites, scores of current and past politicians, including some who promised interviews, went missing last week as The Sunday Gleaner sought to poll them on single sourced contract awards.

“The state agencies often ask you who do you want to contract. This morning (Friday) an agency called to ask me to name a contractor for a particular piece of work. I do not know if the person supports me. Maybe he does, but one thing I know he is a damn good man for that work because that is his reputation,” Thwaites shared.

The outgoing MP said a $1-million drain-cleaning project has been instituted by Government for all constituencies.

“The worst thing that can happen is that work stops because people get vex or the implementing agencies won’t pass it because it’s not properly done. That is the reality of the politics,” stated Thwaites.

One contractor, who said his company has benefited from billions of dollars in government contracts over the years, but who asked to remain anonymous, said the practice of direct source is standard procedure, noting that nepotism and cronyism were identical twins.

“Sometimes I hate Jamaicans and the way we like to pretend. Every contractor knows they will benefit when their government is in power. Many times, it’s the MP who usually calls me to tell me to bid on a contract. Sometimes I am told how much to bid. I am in business to make money. I am not going to give up that opportunity,” said the contractor, who sighed with boredom during the interview.

He expressed amazement that Jamaica was having a meltdown about the $13.3 million used from Hanna’s CDF allocation.

“Where you think politicians get money from to provide care packages? From their own pockets? You think the food contract at Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) that your newspaper reported on is not nepotism and cronyism? Wait and see. The illiterate person working at the infirmary and the trained nursing graduate who was turned away, you think that is not nepotism?” he asked, but refused to divulge more.

DPP OUT OF LANE

Meanwhile, Thwaites, Ashley and two senior counsels roasted the DPP for her unsolicited obiter, which they said was damaging to Hanna and “made by an individual she cannot sue”.

“In law we speak of every case having a ratio, that is the kernel of the decision and that is in distinction to the obiter – a thinking, comments made in passing which gives an opinion but not central to the decision being made. In the case of the ratio in Hanna’s case, the ruling was that there was not enough evidence to mount a prosecution,” explained Thwaites.

“As far as the obiter was concerned, the DPP was out of lane entirely. The comments about culture of nepotism and cronyism were not for her to say. Her prerogative is to say whether or not the evidence presented amounts to a crime the office can prosecute.”

Ashley said it was not the role of the DPP or OCG to offer damaging prejudicial comments.

“The DPP’s remit is to adjudicate in legal matters. The OCG then was to investigate and refer. Whether it is Hanna or (Andrew) Wheatley in the case of Petrojam, that is not their business,” he said.

A Queen’s Counsel, who spoke with The Sunday Gleaner on condition of anonymity, said the St Ann South East MP was unfairly dealt with.

“Had the DPP ruled that Hanna had a case to answer and made those comments, it is reasonable for her defence to cite the comments as prejudicial. She would have brought the Office of the DPP into disrepute because it would have to prosecute, and it is reasonable for the ordinary man to say Hanna could not get a fair trial,” argued the QC.

Another senior attorney recommended silence to the DPP.

“It’s going to be a painful three years,” said the senior attorney of Llewellyn’s remaining tenure in office.

Wheatley, the dismissed former minister of science, technology, energy and mining, is seeking a Judicial Review to clear his name following comments by the Integrity Commission in its latest report into operations at Petrojam, that he was less than truthful while responding to questions during the multimillion-dollar corruption probe at the entity for which his ministry was responsible.

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.com