Christie vs the politicians
Martin Henry, Contributor
It is an absolute delight to see the two political parties ganging up against Greg Christie, the contractor general. Mr Christie can be a difficult man and regularly roughly ruffles feathers.
Daryl Vaz, the minister of information, is on record as saying both the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government and the People's National Party (PNP) Opposition have concerns about public pronouncements made by the ever-ready to talk and to-write Christie. Remarks made by the zealous contractor-general may be scaring competent individuals away from the public sector. Even when his findings lead to no criminal charges, the stain of corruption has already been left, Vaz complains.
PNP General Secretary, Peter Bunting has joined in in expressing concerns about the untamed Christie. There are concerns among individual Opposition members about Christie's approach, and complaints of 'overzealousness' on the part of the contractor general may be real, Bunting said.
One of Christie's most current sins of 'overzealousness' was his unannounced visit to the premises of the Ministry of Mining and Energy and the appropriation of computers and email messages as part of an investigation into the liquefied natural gas (LNG) deal recently announced by Minister James Robertson.
Further back, the OCG's investigation into the Sandals Whitehouse Hotel project upset the PNP in government and drew the opposition of the JLP, which was then in Opposition. The PNP, now in Opposition, has difficulties with his findings and conclusions about the sale of Air Jamaica slots at London Heathrow, which implicated the minister of finance at the time of the deal, Omar Davies ,in interfering with the process. This was a claim previously strenuously denied before the OCG investigation.
When Government and Opposition, JLP and PNP, find common cause, it is cause for concern. Over the years, they have tacitly 'agreed' on garrison politics, on borrowing which has sunk the economy into a deep hole, on not seriously investigating each other's acts of corruption, and on other shady arrangements. Their common cause against Christie's 'style' raises the question of their common agenda.
The contractor-general is making Government and former government people squirm, and that's his job. Substance, not style, is the real issue. He has the solid support of the country, which is regularly ranking corruption only behind crime as the biggest national problem, and the support of non-governmental groups interested in the taming of the corruption monster. Carolyn Gomes of Jamaicans for Justice said, "Greg Christie's work is absolutely critical to the democratic process. He may be uncomfortable to live with, but we need him."
Former deputy commissioner of police, Mark Shields said Christie and the OCG "represent integrity to the highest order, and that is what Jamaica needs. He may appear to be overzealous but that criticism is likely to come from those with an agenda."
The political parties in Government and Opposition have been furiously back-pedalling on their original utterances, carried by the Observer newspaper, in sweaty efforts at damage control. One powerfully loud member of the PNP bellowed, in my hearing, that if the party did not retract the criticisms of the contractor general, which Bunting joined Vaz in making, he would be resigning his membership. "Ah tief dem want in a di public service why dem a sey Christie investigation driving whey people?" he thundered.
PSOJ President Joseph Matalon has added his voice of support for Christie and the OCG by saying, "as far as I am concerned, the higher the levels of accountability we can achieve, the better it will be for our country. The OCG is very important for our development right now."
But while overwhelming, the support for Greg Christie heading the OCG is not total. John Blake, champion emailer for the JLP, is circulating a message which says, "Mr. Greg Christie should go on the ground of inconsistency. I researched him and found him wanting. He used to handle matters under the PNP differently (kid-gloves style) when compared to now. Look at the Whitehouse billion-dollar matter where he could hardly get information, yet he went on to say that Jamaica got value for money. He overlooked all the conflict of interest involved, plus the insider's issues.
"Another issue is that he had to be invited by the JLP to look at the Air Jamaica issue. Now he just needs to hear something on the radio and he dives in headlong to investigate. I have never heard him repeat that value-for-money point he made when Jamaica lost billions of dollars.
"We still need somebody to do his work, but the person needs to be sincere and without a seemingly political agenda."
One of Greg Christie's irritating features of overzealousness is his constant and lengthy rebuttals of all criticisms, including on week-ends and including ones I have made of the OCG, which, of course, is not above criticism, as a public institution. He has, of course, responded to the newspaper story, 'Should Christie be kept? Contractor General overzealous, scaring off public servants, say political parties'. What he has to say is enormously important for the country to hear: "It is imperative that it is publicly understood that the primary mandate of a contractor general, as is dictated by the Parliament of Jamaica in Sections 4 (1) and 15 of the Contractor General Act, is to monitor and to investigate the award of government contracts to ensure that such contracts are awarded impartially and on merit and in circumstances that do not involve impropriety or irregularity", Christie writes.
"It is also critical for it to be understood that, for good reason, a contractor general is not a part of the executive arm of the State, who reports to or who is subject to the directives of the executive since his job, in essence, is to monitor the conduct of the Government itself in its award of contracts and its issue of licences.
"A contractor general is an independent anti-corruption commission of the Parliament of Jamaica, who is sworn to discharge his mandate under the Contractor General Act, solely "on behalf of Parliament." By extension, this means that a contractor general is mandated by law to discharge his mandate solely on behalf of and solely in the interests of the people and taxpayers of Jamaica. "In the exercise of the powers conferred upon him by this Act, a contractor general shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority", Mr Christie reminds all his detractors.
"As contractor general," Christie said, "I have always discharged my statutory mandate and responsibilities lawfully, independently, faithfully, fairly and fearlessly, for and on behalf of the people of Jamaica. All of my decisions and pronouncements, as contractor general, over the past four and one-half years, are considered positions which have been measured solely by this standard. For good reason, they have all been articulated in written form and have been adequately substantiated by documented evidence, and I will not resile from any of them."
The political critics have never dared to challenge his performance, or the legal standing of his actions. It is his 'style' which deeply irks them.
"I would like to categorically state, without any reservation," Christie hits back, "that I have absolutely no intention whatsoever of discharging my statutory mandate and responsibilities in a manner which suits the desires or dictates of any other person, official or entity, irrespective of who that person, official or entity may be.
"It must also be clearly understood that I will also, at all times, do [my work as contractor-general] forthrightly and vigorously and without fear and without favour, and without being subjected to the countermanding dictates of any other person except a court of law."
There you have it.
One of the truly sad things about Greg Christie is how exceptional and noteworthy he is. In the true spirit of a clean and functional Westminster-style parliamentary democracy, he should hardly be publicly known, much more criticised or lionised with such public passion. The agencies of the public service would quietly and effectively discharge their appointed duties under the law without interference or need for defence.
Let me ask, to the extent that the contractor general is willing to launch investigations when he just hears something on the radio, according to John Blake, why doesn't the police launch investigations into the widely rumoured criminal conduct of politicians even when the politicians, themselves allude to their involvement with crime and criminals? Is there really no basis for the arrest of even one garrisonist in over 40 years of this perversion of the political system? Why have there not been more arrests for corruption, "the use of public resources for private gain?"
We all know that democracies can't function well if their public institutions don't function well. In this regard, Greg Christie and his performance in the Office of Contractor General are symbols of what ought to be. We don't need to like him. And he doesn't seem to care if nobody does.