Nepotism and cronyism
Peter Espeut, Contributor
When I was a member of the board of the National Solid Waste Management Authority under the previous regime, I enquired why a company owned by the notorious Christopher Michael 'Dudus' Coke received contracts from the agency.
I was told that his companies were registered with the National Contracts Commission (NCC), that it was in possession of a Tax Compliance Certificate (TCC), and that if tenders were invited for contracts, and one of his companies made an bid, and if the bid was competitive, there was no basis to refuse the contract.
I remember some years ago when a certain commissioner of lands was under investigation for selling state land cheaply to government ministers, MPs and party supporters (and their wives and other relatives), his response was that they were Jamaicans and were entitled to receive government land just like everyone else. He also argued that it would be victimisation for them to be denied the opportunity to receive government land just because they were politicians, or family members of politicians, or connected with the party in power.
In the last few days, government minister Derrick Kellier has defended his decision to recommend persons, including his younger brother, Martin, for contracts with the National Works Agency (NWA) which is a state agency.
"My brother, Martin (Kellier), was not the only one that I have recommended for work, so I don't see what the fuss is all about. He is on the government contract list, registered, and has duly paid his taxes and his registration fee and all that is required, and so he is entitled to work," MP Kellier is quoted as saying in the Observer.
He continued: "I did not select anyone. I only made recommendations, like anybody else would. Selections are made by the Works Agency. It is standard practice for people in Parliament to make recommendations. You can recommend anyone you want to recommend. If they want to choose one over those that you recommend, that is their business."
Recommendation versus instruction
The Office of the Contractor General (OCG) has opened an investigation into the awarding of this and other contracts. In a press release, the OCG states: "Based upon official NWA documents that are currently within the possession of the OCG, and which were sequestered during a recent OCG visit to the NWA's St James parish office, at least one of the alleged contracts, in the sum of $270,000, was awarded in December 2010 by the NWA, upon the specific written instructions of one 'Derrick Kellier, CD, MP, South St James'" (emphasis mine).
When does a "recommendation" become an "instruction"? When are they the same thing?
When you are selling your own property, you can sell it to your friends or family for whatever price you wish; you can even give it away. When you are building your own home or private office, you can give the work to whomever you wish.
But when it comes to public land and public money, different rules apply. Politicians manage our assets on trust, and we, the Jamaican public, have to get value for our money, and all our national assets must be fully valued. Persons of all political stripes - and even those with none - have a right to an equal chance to win public contracts and purchase public assets.
This is what equality means; but it seems that some believe that politicians and their friends and families are more equal than others. It is wrong for politicians to make recommendations as to who should get contracts. This practice is not allowed under World Bank or IDB procurement rules.
Make it law
This is why governments must have clear procurement procedures which dictate how contracts are awarded and state assets are divested, and these must be enshrined into law. It must be a criminal offence to breach them.
The problem is, the same politicians who benefit from corrupt contract awards and corrupt land divestments are entrusted with making laws to prevent corruption; and although Jamaica has 'procurement guidelines' which must be followed, breaching them is not illegal. Did you expect otherwise?
Martin Kellier is also the PNP councillor for the Welcome Hall division in his brother's constituency of South St James. Is it a conflict of interest for a sitting councillor to get a government contract? Not if you get a waiver allowing it, and they are always granted (by, guess who? Fellow politicians!)
In the first 50 years of our political Independence, we have failed miserably to develop a solid tradition of fairness and transparency in political affairs. Is there any sign that we will do any better in the near future?
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to email@example.com.