Thu | Feb 27, 2020

US Embassy will remain neutral in Jamaica’s internal corruption discourse, says Tapia

Published:Wednesday | February 5, 2020 | 12:13 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer
Donald Tapia

Donald Tapia, the United States (US) ambassador to Jamaica, says the US will remain neutral in the wake of an avalanche of alleged government corruption swirling in the public space.

The often-outspoken US envoy used a speech to the Rotary Club of Kingston at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel recently to hammer home his point and reiterated the embassy’s stance about the revoked visas for government minister Daryl Vaz and his wife Ann Marie Vaz, as well as Member of Parliament for East Kingston Port Royal, Phillip Paulwell.

“We are non-political and will remain non-political. We will do nothing that can hurt either party. We work with both parties, and I have met with both parties and I want to say you have a good system here, and today, there is no corruption or extradition of any minister within this Government,” Tapia said.

Press release

He mentioned that he had to issue a press release while on vacation with his family back in the US, after “a political leader stepped out” and said that he knew that there was an extradition request for ministers of the Andrew Holness-led Government.

“Corruption is a major issue if you hear every day that your Government is corrupt. I wanna say to all of you today; you cannot paint this Government or the past Government with a brush of corruption,” the ambassador said.

“And if you start a rumour that is not true, that’s corruption. I repeat, there is no minister in this government that’s under extradition to the United States for any criminal activities. And I stand by that today.”

Since the news broke, the US Embassy has refused to say why the Vazes’ and Paulwell’s visas were revoked, sparking widespread speculations, some of which Tapia addressed in a round-about way last week.

He said the word corruption has been misused and that there are certain individuals who were brought forward under corruption charges. Tapia questioned whether one bad apple spoiled the entire batch.

“When you step forward into the political arena, you put your family, friends, church, and associations at stake, because the first thing is the attacks that you received from your opposition,” he said.

“Whether you are on this side or not, it’s nice to know that when you go out, ... you are competing against an honest, legitimate candidate.”

CORRUPTION EVERYWHERE

He cautioned that unless there is substantive proof of corruption, commenting in public about it should be subdued, as corruption in Jamaica goes beyond politicians, as it is also rooted in everyday life.

To strengthen his point, Tapia laid out how corrupt many Jamaicans really are with his account of the “left or write’ stories that told many times of how drivers get out of not paying traffic fines for breaches on the roads.

“When you pass that money, you are corrupt; and not only that, you are supporting corruption. When you step into an unregistered taxi cab or you own an unregistered taxi cab, you’re corrupt. And if you get into that unregistered taxi cab and pay the driver, you have contributed to corruption,” said Tapia.

Jamaica slipped four places on the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index and is now ranked 74 out of 180 countries. In light of the decline, Jamaica is now the fourth most corrupt country among 11 CARICOM states.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com