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Stabroek News

Saying sorry is not enough
published: Friday | May 19, 2006

BRUCE GOLDING'S admonition of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP)-led Kingston local government which has been caught in the act of doling out contracts without competitive tender is to be welcomed.

But Mr. Golding could do no less. After all, he has staked his leadership of the JLP on attacking corruption in Government and promising to clean-up the system should his party win the election.

Hopefully, Mr. Golding's words will be more than just that - words - to Kingston Mayor Desmond McKenzie, the leaders of the JLP-controlled parish councils as well as Mr. George Lee, Mayor of Portmore, which is controlled by the People's National Party, which forms the national government. The office of the Contractor General, in a probe that was ordered by Prime Minister Simpson Miller when she was the Minister of Local Government, found that the councils headed by Mr. McKenzie and Mr. Lee systematically gave out contracts without going to tender - in patent breach of the rules.

In good Judaeo-Christian ethic, both leaders have acknowledged their sins, have said sorry and have, essentially, asked for forgiveness. In Mr. McKenzie's case he admits that this lax behaviour in the management of the people's resources is institutionalised at the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) even before he came to its leadership in 2003. Mr. Lee, for his part, claims not to have been aware of the procedures for the award of contracts.

The naivety on the part of Mr. Lee, which he asks the public to accept, raises questions about his capacity for leadership. For it begs the question of whether he was shrouded in a cocoon during all the years on the public debate over corruption and the need for transparency in the conduct of public affairs.

Mr. McKenzie can plead no such ignorance, and does not attempt to. He inherited the squalor - for institutionalised, he says, it was - and had just, in the language of the Finance Minister Dr. Omar Davies, decided to 'run wid it'. Indeed, Mayor McKenzie's behaviour was at one with last year's resistance by the KSAC's councillors of the proposal that they make public all contracts entered by the corporation. Then, it took the muscle of Mr. Golding to gain compliance.

The problem, we think, is that the parish councils have long been seen like troughs of swill from which the faithful can feed - the local government equivalent to the national pork barrel known as the Social Economic and Support Programme (SESP). Now that the management approaches of Messrs. McKenzie and Lee and whoever else have been caught, they should not be allowed to wiggle out of the spotlight with mea culpas which do not come with real change. Neither can they attempt to bluster their way out, as Mr. McKenzie attempted to do when these issues were first raised.

THE OPINIONS ON THIS PAGE, EXCEPT FOR THE ABOVE, DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE GLEANER.

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