SECRECY, IT has been said, is the shield often used by the corrupt to hide their deeds. Although we accept that a cloak of secrecy is necessary for issues of national security and even foreign relations, we believe there can be no compelling reason for politicians to deliberate over pork barrel in secret.
But this has been the case with the committee that is considering the use of the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) which has been meeting in-camera.
The role of the committee is to determine whether the spending of tens of millions of dollars allocated to members of parliament is being done in a non-partisan manner.
We are not comforted by the fact that the committee, chaired by Everald Warmington, is evenly balanced with Opposition and Government members. And neither do we take comfort in the fact that a report of the committee is always sent to the House of Representatives for its examination.
While the work of the committee is, for the most part, oversight, the fact that Parliament would take the decision to shut out all eyes and ears begs the question: What is it that they could be hiding?
No secrecy for private affairs
It is our view that parliamentarians, in particular, and public officials, in general, should not be afforded the privilege of the cover of secrecy for them to discuss their own affairs. Legislation and policy oversight that is complex and pork-laden like the CDF should not be left only to the scrutiny of a few members.
It is an open secret that public disquiet about corruption and incompetence is rising and, certainly, the shameful attempt to stifle debate and scrutiny of the use of the CDF is nothing short of a flat-batted attack on democracy.
Jamaicans will recall that last year, during the Sectoral Debate, the claim was made that one member of parliament appeared to have been using the CDF for personal 'investment'. From what we have heard, similar claims and counterclaims have been made in the committee, and these accusations have either been confirmed or rebuffed by CDF officers who monitor the projects.
While we do not question the integrity of the members who sit on the committee, The Gavel is steadfast in our view that there are no guarantees that Jamaica will know whether the CDF is being abused. It, therefore, means that Jamaicans are forced to fork out billions in taxes and duties to fund programmes like the CDF, with no idea of how and why their money has been spent in a particular way.
Open doors of cdf
Those of us who are old enough to know about the days when pork used to be cured over the 'creng creng', will know that the best way to disguise that you have stolen a piece of that meat is to use a hot knife to slice off a piece. The CDF committee runs the risk of being looked on as a hot knife aiming for that corned pork, if it continues to hide behind the cloak of secrecy.
It is unacceptable that Parliament keeps the doors of the CDF committee closed to the people of this country. We believe that on behalf of the people, and in the interest of democracy, the doors of no parliamentary committee, except in issues that will prejudice national security, should remain open. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government, and the press must not be muzzled.
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