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Time to break the link between politics and criminality

Published:Sunday | July 29, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Alando Terrelonge, Guest Columnist

Claudie Massop, Bucky Marshall, Jim Brown, 'Bulbie' Bennett and 'Dudus' Coke represent but a few of the names and faces of the Jamaican political landscape over the decades. Their reputed allegiance to either of the two major political parties symbolised the somewhat symbiotic relationship between politics and power on the one hand, and crime and corruption on the other.

The level of crime and corruption often used to win political power, as well as to carve out fiefdoms to be ruled by the self-styled gods, has left many Jamaicans dead, others homeless and has caused some to flee our beloved nation.

In this our 50th year of political Independence, it is important that as a nation, we never forget that while some of these individuals were used as pawns by politicians in their quest to amass and safeguard power, others rose above their political fathers to take their place in the pantheon of our political history as gods among men.

As a people, we should, however, never accept the marriage between politics and crime, and the level of violence that is birthed by the style of politicking practised in Jamaica. Following the death of Bulbie in October 2005, Superintendent Wade, commanding officer for St Catherine North, stated unequivocally that there were "persons who are fully elected members" of the PNP who supported his criminal activities, and those of his gang in Spanish Town.

Dr Peter Phillips, a vice-president of the ruling PNP and then minister of national security, indicated that it was undesirable for any member of any political party to be connected with criminals.

SIMILAR CONCERNS

The Dudus saga heralded similar concerns about the link between political parties and the underworld. The perceived protection offered to Dudus by the JLP Government against extradition to the USA was the precursor of a diplomatic impasse between Jamaica and the US, the deaths of at least 73 residents of West Kingston, an enquiry that cost taxpayers millions of dollars, the resignation of a prime minister, and, some would say, the ultimate defeat of the JLP at the polls in December 2011.

The examples of the unfortunately enriching relationship between politics and criminality are numerous. One might even posit the view that behind the political ascendancy of many of our politicians over the last 50 years, there have been a plethora of political activists and donors with questionable characters. For some donors, though not associated with violence, are themselves kingpins of their own white-collar criminal enterprises. The recent donations of David Smith to both political parties is but one example of businessmen with dubious business practices who align themselves to either or both political parties.

More fatal to our political system are the occasions when those elected to hold political office are themselves adjudged criminals and herded to prison. The arrests of Michael Troupe and Sylvan Reid and the allegations of their involvement in transnational crimes cannot narrowly be viewed as causing major embarrassment to the PNP. Rather, the overarching effect is that it shames the entire nation and has dire implications on our international commitments to cull corruption and move towards greater transparency.

In 2011, Jamaica was ranked 86 out of 183 countries by Transparency International with a score of 3.3 out of 10 on their global corruption perceptions index. It was also the year of the Manatt enquiry and the conviction and sentencing of David Smith on charges of wire fraud and money laundering.

PARTIES flip-flopping

So far, 2012 has seen both major political parties flip-flopping as to whether they received political funding from Smith, or the amount of any such donations; and Troupe's and Reid's arrest and alleged involvement in an international lottery scam; and more delays in the Kern Spencer trial. These incidences have marred our political landscape and it remains to be seen how much of an adverse effect they will have on Jamaica's future corruption ratings.

For Jamaica to truly be on a mission to separate the link between politics and crime, it is imperative that we chart a course towards greater transparency. It cannot be business as usual and it behoves the future of our political institutions over the next 50 years that we change the way politicking is practised.

For us to rid ourselves of the international perceptions that Jamaica is a politically corrupt nation, we must put an end to the usual rhetoric and finally legislate campaign financing. Not only should the names of donors be made public, but the amounts and source of their funds must also be disclosed. Additionally, their ties to government and party members, both in their private and professional capacity must also be divulged to guard against potential conflicts of interest and maintain a high level of integrity in our political process.

Further, this new mission should also see the formation of a non-partisan National Political Integrity Committee, similar to the PNP's internal integrity committee but with far greater powers. The primary function of this body would be to investigate the business practices and possible criminal associations of those who offer themselves to public service.

Alando Terrelonge is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and alando.terrelonge@btalawjm.com.