Edward Morris, Guest Columnist
So here we go again - the story of our lives - embroiled in another political scandal. Mr Azan, a government minister, an elected representative of the people, a lawmaker in Parliament, is boldly proclaiming to Jamaica and the international community that he has no regrets for breaking the law, acting ultra vires, and setting a rotten example for thousands to emulate.
I hear that we operate a Westminster system of government but it seems we only claim that peculiarity when it suits us. For how can a government minister, a senior member of the administration, act so injudiciously, yet no one saw it prudent to admonish or, worse yet, sanction him? Madam Prime Minister, can't you see that Rome is burning?
Isn't it clear that the buck stops with the PM, who ultimately should have taken the blame and resigned along with Azan, the mayor of May Pen and all state officials implicated in this messy affair. Or we can only assume that Azan acted totally solo and is therefore solely responsible for his indiscretions. Let's take a brief look at some ethical cases from Britain and consider the outcomes:
In April 2004, Beverly Hughes was forced to resign as minister for immigration, citizenship and counterterrorism when it was shown that she had been informed of procedural improprieties concerning the granting of visas to certain categories of workers from Eastern Europe. She had earlier told the House of Commons that if she had been aware of such facts she would have done something about it
On 24 January 2008, Peter Hain resigned his two cabinet posts (secretary of state for work and pensions and secretary of state for Wales) after the Electoral Commission referred donations to his deputy leadership campaign to the police.
On 14 October 2011, Secretary of State for Defence Liam Fox resigned from the Cabinet after he "mistakenly allowed the distinction between his personal interests and government activities to become blurred" because of his friendship with Adam Werrity.
Maybe I'm being naïve, but does the Azan saga smell more hygienic than any of the abovementioned incidents? Had I been the PM, I would have long calculated the political mileage to be gained and sacked Azan without coercion. Or is it that the PM considers the party backing more important than accountability and effective governance? Which is more important - the signal to the party faithful that Sista P is their diehard mother to the end, or the signal to the national and international community that she is a no-nonsense, fearless, astute leader?
Implicit in Azan's "no regrets" declaration is the vox populi that once his allies are with him, there is no inappropriateness to his actions. Do the means justify the end? So where does civility end and corruption begin? I don't believe it is such a thin line or that the minister is so blind to see. This is the heights of insularity! Jamaica, we've got to wake up to 21st-century governance! We are sending an awfully wrong signal to civil society that you can do almost anything that benefits a few and get away with it. In our system of corporate governance, a minister cannot only remain uncorrupt but must shun the very appearance of corruption and swim above the ethical tide at all times.
I recall an interview with some of the Spaldings Market vendors shortly after the original news had broken in April 2013, where, not surprisingly, they all expressed support of the minister's actions; no doubt he had been buoyed by the constituency support over the months and hadn't given a rat's derrière to stepping down.
If, by his own admission, he blundered, he should have done the noble thing and stepped aside from the very beginning, or the prime minister, acting as the people's steward, should have asked him to step aside from then. But can you really blame Azan when so many of his predecessors - in both administrations - have behaved in similar or worse manner?
Let me put a scenario to Azan. Had he been the owner of an enterprise and one of his workers illicitly transacted some business without his consent, using his own property, and diverted the revenue to some other source, what would he have done? How do I explain this debacle to a teenager enquiring what the fuss is all about? No wonder the 'nutten nah gwaan' theme is becoming increasingly popular. If we fail to establish the nexus between corruption and poverty then our country is forever doomed. And alas, Azan, corruption does not only mean the absence of illegality, but as one international organisation postulates, it includes "favouritism and nepotism, embezzlement, fraud, conflict of interest". Aren't there lessons to be learnt here?
So where do we go from here? The international media is watching us carefully. Nationwide Radio on September 19, 2013 carried a BBC report which discussed the actions of the minister and the failure of the PM to act, even in face of widespread calls for Azan's head. Is it any wonder that our Diaspora isn't stepping up to the plate as readily as we would like?
Madam Prime Minister, there is still room to salvage some pride from this ignominy. Go a step further and ask Azan to step aside as MP. Do you recall a similar debacle across our twin-island republic neighbour and the outcome? Austin Jack Warner resigned both as cabinet minister and member of parliament. Do what you need to do - without further delay. Do not appear to be responding only to public pressure. Let the world see that we have a leader who sees, hears and cares. Leave a legacy of judiciousness for the current and future generations. May God still shine on our blessed homeland.
Edward A. Morris, Northern Caribbean University, Mandeville. Email feedback to email@example.com.