Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader Andrew Holness is claiming Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller's treatment of former state minister in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, Richard Azan, highlights a fundamental difference in approaches by the two major political parties to allegations of wrongdoing by their members.
Holness, in an interview with The Sunday Gleaner two days before Azan's resignation over the Spaldings Market controversy last Friday, characterised as a cover-up the Government's handling of the matter.
The JLP leader and former prime minister pointed to his own handling of the controversy involving former Transport and Works Minister Mike Henry in relation to the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP).
Holness said since the deafening howls from the People's National Party (PNP) over that case, a forensic report that he ordered has cleared Henry's name, although he was forced to resign under a cloud.
"I think that is a study in the difference between the PNP and the JLP," asserted Holness.
He added: "There is a view in society that all politicians are corrupt and that there are no differences between the two parties … . I want to use this to demonstrate the difference."
A day after the contractor general's report was tabled, Holness said he had read it in its entirety.
"It is a well-written report and does not leave you with any uncertainty," he said. "The report literally describes the action of a sitting minister as corrupt … . I have never before seen that in any report of a sitting minister."
Holness noted that the report further recommended that the prime minister take disciplinary action, consistent with the Westminster model of government.
"When a similar instance occurred under circumstances that were not as explicit as they are now in the contractor general's report, I called all the ministers together in an informal meeting of the Cabinet at Vale Royal," said Holness. "Mike Henry said to me, 'Prime Minister, I know the pressure you are coming under and I know that when you call such a meeting, you are expecting certain action'."
LISTENING TO CONSCIENCE
Holness said he told the embattled minister that "the appropriate thing is for you to do what your conscience tells you".
"Mike wrote his letter of resignation that night and we called The Gleaner and the other newspaper and told them, 'We have something for you'. We never waited until the next day. The next day, it was in the papers."
Said Holness: "It shows that the culture of the party is different and that is how the Westminster system works … . Once it was established that the minister should act, Mike acted, and we accepted."
Holness said when the controversy surfaced, he also requested a forensic report and shifted the permanent secretary to kick-start the process.
"Mike resigned on the basis that it would not be correct for him to maintain the position with all the criticisms and a forensic review going on at the same time," said Holness. "I think that if you compare Mike's action with that of Minister Azan's, you will see the total difference in culture in terms of what the leader expects and what the minister does."
Added Holness: "In the PNP, it is different. They cover up and shield each other. That doesn't spell well for transparency."
Since Holness' comments to The Sunday Gleaner last Wednesday, Azan has resigned. But unlike Henry's resignation within 24 hours of new revelations at a sitting of Parliament's Public Accounts Committee about concerns related to the management of JDIP, Azan only resigned last Friday, three days after the Office of the Contractor General submitted a report on the Spaldings Market controversy.
In the days leading up to Azan's resignation, Simpson Miller skirted questions about what action would be taken, and the state minister declared in The Gleaner that he had no regrets.
In accepting Azan's resignation, Simpson Miller praised the politician for his work done during his tenure.
Azan's resignation comes five months after The Sunday Gleaner first revealed that he facilitated the construction of 10 wooden shops at the Spaldings Market, which falls under the purview of the Clarendon Parish Council. The rental fees for the shops were also collected at Azan's constituency office.