Recent events in Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), where a current leader and a former premier have been arrested, have added fuel to the already toxic political discourse in the region.
W. McKeeva Bush of The Cayman Islands and Michael Misick of TCI deserve the presumption of innocence, but their situation prompts our society to take a hard look at itself and ask the inevitable question. Could it happen here?
Let's not forget that both Cayman and the TCI were dependencies of Jamaica up to 1959. Many have looked at how they have prospered as colonies of Great Britain, and their prosperity has often been used to highlight Jamaica's parlous economic affairs.
The Corruption Perception Index produced by Transparency International confirms that Jamaica has a problem, ranking 83rd out of 176 countries.
Yet, in their most eloquent speeches, our politicians have been strident about eliminating corruption and often cite the agencies that they have created to ensure greater accountability and transparency. However, there are glaring examples of non-accountability, and ways in which politicians have put the interest of their parties above the people.
One of them is the David Smith/Olint affair. Both the Government and the Opposition reportedly received large campaign donations from Smith. But David Smith's money was tainted. He swindled investors of their hard-earned money in his Ponzi scheme posing as an investment club. After the matter of his contributions came to light in the TCI, both major Jamaican political parties were questioned about it. Their utterances were mostly incoherent, and they promised to investigate the matter.
TAINTED MONEY COMPROMISING ETHICS
The People's National Party has claimed it only received US$1 million, while the Jamaica Labour Party is still, supposedly, sorting out its receipts. No proof has been disclosed to the Jamaican people. The case of David Smith's tainted contributions to our political parties is a measure of how competition for campaign financing can compromise ethics.
Take the case of former junior minister Kern Spencer, who was charged in 2008 for his alleged part in what has been commonly called the light bulb scandal. After four years of legal manoeuvrings and twists, the case remains part-heard, giving witnesses enough time for memories to fade. The ponderous justice system that results in long-drawn-out trials helps to create deep distrust among citizens and is a breeding ground for corruption.
In 2009, the British bridge-building firm Mabey & Johnson admitted in court to bribing 12 individuals in six countries in order to secure contracts. Jamaican Joseph Hibbert, a former public servant and member of parliament, was on that list. Additionally, the Office of the Contractor General conducted a special investigation into the firm's activities in Jamaica, after which a file was submitted to the director of public prosecutions (DPP) and the police commissioner to act as deemed appropriate. Mr Hibbert has maintained his innocence, but the matter has never been placed before a court of law.
If we take just these cases into consideration, one can reasonably conclude that Jamaica is affected by a serious culture of complacency with corruption and tolerance of wrongdoing. There are so many more examples of graft, non-accountability and corruption that point to a dreadful blight on the obligations of our leaders to be accountable and transparent.
Both political parties must make clear, unequivocal statements about the contributions they received from David Smith, with documentary evidence. The DPP needs to speedily conclude the Kern Spencer case and decide whether Joseph Hibbert has a case to answer.
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