Kevin O'Brien Chang
It's human nature to seek truth, or at least plausibility. So when we hear about fairy godmother multi-nationals flying from abroad unasked to donate US $585,000 with no strings attached, the natural response is 'bull shoots'. Trafigura won't be history until Jamaicans hear a convincing explanation from the Prime Minister. Nowadays not even eight year olds believe in fairy tales. And governments that take voters for fools get laughed at on election day.'
Trafigura also separated the media sheep from goats. Some commentators tried to analyse the known facts logically. Others tried to wish away those smoking gun $30 million cheques to the tune of 'You gonna believe me or your lying eyes?' At least the public now knows who is who.'
Let's establish some bona fides. I've never been a member of the People's National Party (PNP) or Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), nor been inside any Member of Parliament's or Senator's home. I did a newspaper interview with Edward Seaga - P.J. Patterson was too busy for the planned follow up - but it was mainly about cultural issues. I had supper once with Bruce Golding when he was the National Democratic Movement (NDM) president - I mentioned the party's 'red man' image and he testily retorted, "Who are you to question my blackness!"
He also had me on his radio talk show a couple times. But apart from a discussion of Peter Tosh with Omar Davies at a book launch, I haven't talked more than 10 minutes with any other elected politician. As for those wondering if the political opinions of someone so unconnected can have much value, well you're probably right.
Naturally to some, anyone not a comrade is a labourite, and vice versa. When I criticised Bruce Golding's 'Nazi concentration camp' remarks for instance, Wilmot Perkins accused me on air of being on the PNP payroll. But such is life.
And here is my take on how the Jamaican media handled Trafigura. Many will sharply disagree, but that's what a free press is for.
Certain voices are predictable. Delroy Chuck and Shirley Williams take a JLP line. Delroy Morrison, Ronnie Thwaites and Heather Robinson defend the PNP. Anthony Abrahams and Lambert Brown bob and weave. Analysts Tony Myers, Helen Davis-White and Dickie Crawford are Drumblairites. Paul Ashley, Shalman Scott and Hyacinth Bennett though seem middle roaders.
Our doyens are fearless and incorruptible. But, Wilmot Perkins never says anything good about Michael Manley's party, while John Maxwell never says anything good about Edward Seaga's party. Doubtless John the environmentalist would have been much angrier had it been a JLP government in bed with toxic waste Trafigura. While Dawn Ritch's logic-chopping satires make her the country's most entertaining writer, even if unintentionally so.
Stephen Vasciannie, Martin Henry, and Hilary Robertson-Hickling ignored the issue. PR savvy Jean Lowrie Chin stayed on the fence. “Trafigura Chequegate' rambled Christopher Burns. A ‘plague on both houses' postured rebel Mel Cooke. But lesser of two evils or not, you either help choose your leaders, or watch others choose them for you.
The Jamaica Council of Churches was once dubbed 'The PNP at prayer'. Our clergymen in print - Ian Boyne, Garnet Roper, Devon Dick, Henley Morgan, Michael Burke, Peter Espeut - certainly seem more like comrades at mass. Trafigura was to them about campaign finance and banking secrecy, not corruption. But then, we would expect advisory council members to defend their party and speech writers to back their clients.
Yet, what about the immorality of government ministers accepting money from a company whose dumping of raw toxic waste in the Ivory Coast caused 10 deaths and made over 100,000 ill? And are public officials who sign ‘dummy contracts' and make Jamaica party to the breaching of international anti-bribery laws not disobeying the Ten Commandments? Whatever happened to 'Thou shall not kill or lie or steal'?
Is there no difference - as June Hinds, Helen Davis-White and Desmond Richards argued - between individuals doing business with bauxite companies in Manchester and government ministers accepting money from blood stained Trafigura?
To columnists like Garth Rattray, Dennie Quill and Vernon Daley, 'Taking the Trafigura money was wrong, but so was breaking bank secrecy laws and /or the real issue is campaign finance reform'. The University of the West Indies (UWI) intelligentsia - such as Geoff Brown, Robert Buddan, Orville Taylor, Trevor Munroe and Kingsley Stewart - mostly agreed. But if this is the kind of logic and ethics they teach at Mona, God help our students.
Equating the public exposure of a chequing account with documented government corruption is like comparing a man who shoplifts bread for his family to a gang of armed robbers. Prosecute the case at hand and then talk about changing laws. Yes, sensible countries ban political contributions from foreign companies, and so should Jamaica. But, it's pointless to talk about local campaign finance laws when we can't even enforce the Parliamentary Integrity Act for sixty MPs.
Betty Anne Blaine condemned ministers accepting $30 million bribes while babies die in hospitals for lack of equipment. Tamara Scott-Williams saw $30 million as chump change compared to the public funds wasted since 1989. Ken Jones called for whistleblower laws. Fair and balanced Lloyd B. Smith was disappointingly cautious. But honest Ken Chaplin laid it on the table - "Norman and Michael Manley must be turning in their graves!"
Forthright Colin Steer asked, "Is this any way to run a party, let alone a government?" Outspoken Mark Wignall saw Trafigura as rank corruption compounded by incompetence. "Portia needs to clean house," said Claude Robinson. He and Damien King show there is some rational integrity at UWI.
Persons like Barbara Gloudon who give racial and social issues balanced public hearings have contributed immensely to Jamaica staying riot and revolution free for over 40 years. But, one of my RJR-listening managers says that on political matters 'Miss Gloudon doesn't like anyone to criticise the PNP except herself!' I understand the feelings of those who imbibed the ethos of Norman Manley's party with their mother's milk. But, Miss G, would NW have countenanced taking money from a company which recklessly endangered innocent lives to reduce costs? Would he have tolerated in his government anyone who made Jamaica party to the circumvention of international bribery laws?
The RJR and TVJ group was a grave disappointment. Combative Dionne Jackson-Miller was the last person I expected to drink the government's ‘Fairy Godmother Trafigura' kool aid. But the 'All Angles' show I saw weakly took the UWI Comrade 'Two wrongs not one' track.
CVM's digging brought forth Trafigura's 'commercial agreement not donation' statement. While Cliff Hughes' Nationwide group grabbed the issue by the throat. Emily Crooks was just as tough and fearless as her boss, and even erstwhile comrade Beverly Manley joined their relentless quest for truth and facts. it's journalists like these who keep democracies alive.
People like Cliff Hughes, Mark Wignall, Lloyd B Smith, Ken Chaplin, Emily Crooks, Betty Anne Blaine, Colin Steer, Claude Robinson, Ken Jones, Shalman Scott, Hyacinth Bennett, Paul Ashley, Damien King, Wilmot Perkins, John Maxwell and Dawn Ritch call it as they see it, right or wrong and party be damned.
Would the others above have treated Trafigura the same if it was a JLP government involved? Based on their arguments, I doubt it. And of these 30 odd, the only clear Labourites are Delroy Chuck, Shirley Williams and Tamara Scott-Williams. I used to pooh pooh Labour complaints about press bias. But, Trafigura proved beyond doubt that PNP media apologists far outnumber JLP ones.
Partisan journalists are a tolerable evil, if roughly balanced. But a heavily lop-sided press cannot be good for democracy.