Thu | Nov 26, 2020

Light on Corruption | Corruption- the enemy of Jamaica's growth

Published:Wednesday | August 2, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Kent Gammon

For decades Jamaica has grappled with corruption, resulting in undulating movements on the Transparency International Scale and in countless anecdotes across the spectrum of the Jamaican landscape.

In June 197, an infamous case involving the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Construction, Edward 'Ted' O'Gilvie, was murdered in broad daylight by armed assassins when he went home for lunch. At the time of his death, he had been in the midst of conducting an audit of a housing project in the deprived East Kingston community of McGregor Gully, where it was alleged that some $1.9 million was spent on the project in just six weeks, apparently overshooting budget targets.

The mastermind behind the murder, the former Superintendent of Works, one Weston Dyer of 17 Florida Avenue, Independence City, St Catherine, was found guilty on charges of conspiracy to murder and incitement to murder arising out of the murder of this upstanding civil servant.

That horrific murder set the backdrop for the stench of corruption that would flourish in Jamaica, particularly in the public sector and ushered in the Office of the Contractor General in 1985 to at least staunch cases of corruption in Jamaica.


Has Jamaica's accountability in the public sector changed much since the 1970s?

Jamaica`s former minister of labour, J.A.G. Smith, served jail time for diverting money for personal gain from Jamaica's famous farm-worker programme.

This to date is the most prominently successfully prosecuted case against a Jamaican politician. Since then, despite numerous cases forwarded by the contractor-general to the director of public prosecutions (DPP) for charges to be laid against various Jamaican politicians for corruption, none has been successfully prosecuted since J.A.G. Smith's time.

Consider the case of the former junior minister, Richard Azan, who in 2013 said proudly that he had no regrets about facilitating the illegal construction of wooden shops at the Spaldings Market in his North West Clarendon constituency.

In November 2014, the National Housing Trust (NHT) paid some $180 million dollars to purchase a loss-making tourist attraction, Outameni Experience, located in Trelawny.

The company that owned the attraction is Orange Valley Farms Limited, and the directors of that company are 'good friends' with prominent members of the People's National Party.

The purchase had absolutely nothing to do with the law (or tenor for that matter) of the NHT, and no one was held accountable for that egregiously lawless transaction. Not much has changed along the corruption spectrum over the decades.

The latest dip by Jamaica in the Corruption Perception Index from 41 to 39 since 2015 is no doubt largely in part for Jamaica's failure to successfully prosecute public officials who brazenly engage in corrupt practices and in the process enrich themselves at taxpayers' expense.

Despite the Office of the Contractor General, (OCG) legislated in 1985 to be a check and balance on corruption, of the 40 cases referred by the OCG to the DPP over the last 9 years for prosecution the DPP has not prosecuted one single case.

When the DPP was asked about it she commented that the threshold test of proving an act of corruption beyond a reasonable doubt was not met in almost all instances.

So the OCG presses for transparency in the awarding of government contracts but because he has no prosecutorial powers his office is all bark and no bite.


Dentures for the Contractor-General due to 'corruptitis'

The time has long come for the OCG to be given prosecutorial powers. Many Jamaicans are sickened by the daily acts of corruption throughout the country , but because no one is held accountable, they have given up and lament 'that's how the system is set'. It is because of the DPP's disastrous success record in prosecuting corrupt individuals that has created this sense of hopelessness in curbing corruption in Jamaica.

This is an abdication of responsibility for our children's future. The fact that some persons succumb to their worse selves and partake in corrupt activities does not mean we all have to succumb to 'corruptitis', one's passive resistance to corruption.

The antidote to corruptitis is the fast-track passing into law of the Integrity Commission Act 2017. This bill will allow the Commission to task directors of divisions within the Commission to investigate corrupt practices of politicians and put them, where they have siphoned off public resources into their private pockets, where they belong, behind bars and away from corrupting society in general.

The Integrity Commission Act 2017, which was preceded by the bill Corruption Prevention (Special Prosecutor) Act which was first introduced into Parliament in 2011, had been put on ice when the administration changed in December 2011. This act will give the directors of divisions within the Integrity Commission prosecutorial powers, similar to that like in the United States of America, and will not need the filter of the DPP to lay charges. The directors' powers will extend to investigating agents of politicians, such as sub-contractors on government work contracts, who are notorious frontmen for corrupt politicians, and who the politicians can hide behind while carrying on their secret corrupt dealings and enrichment.

The directors' powers, particularly the director of Corruption Prosecution Division, are separate to those of the DPP and have equal footing to prosecute pursuant to section 94 of the constitution. It is assumed their emoluments will be equal.

The Integrity Commission will be a major check and balance on corrupt practices and will surely level the playing field for the overexploited citizens of Jamaica who have not received value for their hard earned tax paying dollars for too long.

-  Kent P. Gammon - Attorney-at-law, Caretaker M.P. for JLP Clarendon South West;