Inappropriate gifts

Published: Friday | June 24, 2011 Comments 0

When is a gift a bribe? When is a 'show of appreciation' a kickback? These are matters about which there are international standards, and indeed about which there are some regulations in Jamaica; I think it would be true to say that in Jamaica they are often ignored.

But these are matters prominent in the news of the day. FIFA's longest-standing executive member, Jack Warner, has resigned over allegations that he facilitated a meeting of Caribbean football officials at which they were offered and/or received brown envelopes, each apparently stuffed with US$40,000, to vote for Mohamed bin Hammam as FIFA president. Warner has claimed that there was no ethical breach in the handing out of the envelopes, stating that the money from bin Hammam was for use as the Caribbean delegates saw fit.

Warner's resignation has halted a FIFA ethics probe into his conduct. I can't see why. Misconduct is misconduct, and a resignation should not sideline corruption investigations; such a quid pro quo, if indeed it was such, might itself be an ethics violation.

Receiving a bribe is also corruption and a criminal offence. The question remains whether any Jamaican football official received one of the brown envelopes, whether the 'dallahs' were spent on Jamaican football or personal expenses, whether the funds were put through the official books of Jamaica's football organisation, or whether the funds were returned. If the latter, evidence should be forthcoming. There has been so little public interest in these questions that one has to wonder whether these 'gifts' are considered par for the course.

Payola - the practice of secretly giving and receiving bribes to guarantee airplay for popular music - is apparently so widespread that the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica (BCJ) has proposed that it be made a criminal offence under the commission's act, punishable by fines of up to $15 million. Payola has been around for a long time; it was highlighted in Perry Henzell's 1973 Jamaican movie The Harder They Come. Will the BCJ's recommendations receive heartfelt support from the music industry?

unusual behaviour

I was scathing in this column a few years ago in my criticism of positive media coverage received by an inappropriate private housing development after a press conference with a sumptuous breakfast hosted by the private (and politically connected) entrepreneur. The housing project was eventually shifted to an official watershed area - just as inappropriate - but I accused the journalists-turned-public-relations practitioners of selling their ethics for a mess of pottage. One conscience-stricken media practitioner told me afterwards that he attended the press conference, but on principle did not have any of the breakfast. What does the media code of ethics have to say about this?

I am not saying this happens, but would it be appropriate for a minister of tourism to accept a complimentary pass for free accommodation in hotels over which he exercises policy influence? A former minister of tourism told me that, on principle, such offered free passes were returned unused, which was considered unusual behaviour, which did not contribute to their popularity in the sector. Isn't this an inappropriate, unethical and illegal gift?

Suppose a Cabinet minister arranged for a private bird-shooting club to obtain shooting rights over government land. Would it be appropriate for that club to offer that Cabinet minister guest membership in the club, and for him to accept it?

What about government ministers accepting free trips in the private planes of persons who previously or subsequently received government largesse?

I know a procurement officer in a government entity who declined to accept all offered gifts at Christmas, and returned all bottles of liquor, etc., delivered to the office by bearers, from persons with whom business was conducted on behalf of the Government.

Is this the sort of matter Contractor General Greg Christie was referring to in yesterday's Gleaner:

"Christie also pointed to Section 4 (3) (g) of the October 2010 Government of Jamaica (GOJ) Handbook of Public Sector Procurement Procedures, saying it expressly provides that 'public officials shall not accept gifts from current or potential GOJ (Government of Jamaica) contractors'.

"In addition, Christie highlighted sections 1 and 3 (a) of the First Schedule to the December 2008 Public Sector Procurement Regulations, which prohibits public officers who are 'concerned in any aspect of the process of public-sector procurement' from accepting gifts from a prospective contractor."

And we haven't even yet raised political campaign donations and contributions. It must be hard to be a clean public official, with so many temptations being offered by the private sector.

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon.

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