Tue | Feb 25, 2020

EDITORIAL - Another chance for decency, Mr Azan

Published:Thursday | September 19, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Apart from taking half a year to complete an investigation that should have been done in a week, and that he used a tome to say what could have been concluded in a few pages, Dirk Harrison's probe offered no new insights into the Spaldings Market scandal.

We knew all along that Richard Azan, the West Clarendon member of parliament (MP) and junior transport, works and housing minister, kicked over the Government's procurement rules and 'facilitated' a private developer's construction of shops on government property.

We also knew that Mr Azan and the chairman of the Clarendon Parish Council and May Pen's mayor, Scean Barnswell, slithered and prevaricated their way through the affair, and that senior officers at the parish council displayed an appalling lack of competence at their jobs.

If Mr Harrison, the contractor general, broke any new ground in his first special report - one of two released on Tuesday - since he got the job, it was to confirm the poor political instincts of Prime Minister (PM) Portia Simpson Miller.

It will also help us to determine if the PM has learned any lessons from this affair. If she has, we expect to see the back of the hapless Mr Azan as a member of Mrs Simpson Miller's government by the end of the week.

Should there be any decency or shame left in Mr Azan, no one will have to ask him to go. He will recognise that he has sought refuge long enough behind Mrs Simpson Miller's billowing skirt tail and that it is time to move on.

If he doesn't, Mrs Simpson Miller should by now know that Richard Azan represents wasted political capital, which would have been better spent moblising public support for the tough economic reform that Jamaica must undergo.

No one is claiming that Mr Azan profited materially from the arrangement he concocted with John Bryant for the latter, a contractor, to build the shops in the parking lot of the market and to allow a secretary/administrative assistant to collect rent on Mr Bryant's behalf. When the matter was made public by this newspaper, there was an attempt to 'regularise' this illegality by having the parish council acquire the shops.

If this was a clear case of theft, it would have been clean and easy: the law catching a thieving politician and, hopefully, carting him off to jail. But there is something perversely more pernicious about this matter.

DEEP SYSTEMIC FLAWS

Richard Azan's callowness aside, the case represents deep systemic flaws in our approach to politics, governance, and government.

MP Azan presumed he was doing public good by facilitating the construction of shops to house vendors who crowd the streets of a town in his constituency. And he would, to boot, get political support.

But the larger issue is what Mr Azan's action tells us about arbitrariness, with few perceived constraints on ministerial authority - by those who exercise that authority and those whom it affects.

Indeed, in this system, where dysfunction is the norm, ministers and MPs, politicians generally are expected to distribute patronage, whether in the form of handouts to constituents or contracts for state-funded projects. It is a corrosive construct in which corruption thrives.

It matters naught that there was no personal benefit to Mr Azan. His misbehaviour, as Mr Harrison asserted, was politically corrupt, which the PM can't leave unpunished.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.