The two special reports of the contractor general, which were tabled in Parliament last week, have yet again brought into sharp focus the need for Jamaica to move post-haste to overhaul its stifling bureaucracy and remove all incentives for corruption.
The reports, produced by Dirk Harrison, point to Richard Azan, former state minister in the Transport, Works and Housing Ministry, and Energy Minister Phillip Paulwell breaching established guidelines to advance certain causes.
In the case of Azan, who the contractor general said was "at best politically corrupt (the bone of our contention)", the junior minister used his office as member of parliament to facilitate the illegal construction of shops at the Spaldings Market in his North West Clarendon constituency.
In the case of Paulwell, Harrison said he was constantly moving the goalpost to give Hong Kong-based Energy World International (EWI) an unfair advantage in the bid to supply 360 megawatts of power to the national grid.
Both men have taken issue with the findings of the contractor general. Paulwell has stopped short of saying Harrison did not understand the technical matters he reviewed and thus arrived at a faulty conclusion, while Azan has signalled his intent to clear his good name, which he says the contractor general has helped to bring into disrepute.
Azan may not have expressed it clearly enough as yet, but we believe Harrison is way out of order to have attached the "politically corrupt" label to the MP.
It has long been the view of The Gavel that persons are entitled to their good names, and that no one should be allowed the licence to unfairly pass judgement on an individual or their character. The court is the appropriate body to make such a determination.
If any MP had labelled Azan as "at best, politically corrupt" in the House, even a speaker who is hardly worth his salt would have ruled it out of order because it would have breached the Standing Orders, which say no member should impute improper motive on the part of another member.
Harrison, however, like Greg Christie before him has done, has cast aspersions about the character of a person, and has hid behind the cover of privilege, being unmindful of the DNA effect that being labelled corrupt can have on an individual.
The story has been told of a man, accused of corruption, arrested and charged. He was placed before the court and vindicated. When he was leaving the courthouse he was interviewed by journalist/s who asked him how he felt about the outcome of the case. The story goes that the man responded, asking, where shall I go to get my reputation back?
DPP to consider case
We note where the director of public prosecutions (DPP), Paula Llewellyn, has said she will make a decision later this week on whether to bring a case against Azan. Harrison asked the DPP to examine whether Azan and others should be prosecuted for conspiracy to defraud the Clarendon Parish Council of revenue.
The Gavel is not for one moment suggesting that Azan is innocent, and neither will we rush to say he is guilty. If Llewellyn is sufficiently moved by the material sent to her by Harrison, we have confidence that the tribunal of facts, known as the court, will determine his fate.
It is for that reason we think it was unfortunate that Harrison, in a bid to signal his arrival as the big bad wolf at the OCG, would bypass Jamaican laws and go to Transparency International and find a label to attach to Azan's actions.
The contractor general erred big time there, and we have no reason to believe it won't happen again. It is for this reason we believe that the Parliament should move to safeguard the names and reputations of all Jamaicans from the might of the OCG.
We believe that where an allegation has been made in any report from any commission of Parliament about a person's character, the report should not be tabled instantly but be sent to a special committee of Parliament to review the findings.
In the meantime, the summary of the findings, with potentially offensive materials redacted, should be laid on the table of the House as an interim report.
We further believe that the special committee doing the report should do its work in-camera, and upon completion, the committee report to the full House on its deliberations. If the report has uncovered procedural breaches, the relevant ministry, department or agency must be brought before it to explain the breakdown and to indicate what sanctions are to be applied and how the breach will be remedied.
If the alleged breach is of a criminal nature, the matter would have already been referred to the DPP and the police by the OCG, thus removing the need for the Parliament to deal with an issue over which it has no competence or jurisdiction.
Don't table in parliament
There is absolutely no reason for any report with persons identified as either suspects or persons of interests to be tabled in Parliament, thereby granting privilege to the media, which is duty-bound to report fairly on the contents of the report.
The manner in which we have operated, especially with the OCG reports, have run counter to the practice of natural justice, a situation which is even more magnified when one considers that a vast number of persons who have been wrapped in the cloth of shame have never been charged for an offence.
Dr Christopher Tufton, former agriculture minister, for example, found himself being accused of perjury by then Contractor General Greg Christie, and despite Llewellyn finding no merit in the claim and kicking it aside, serious damage was done to the reputation of Dr Tufton.
Lest we forget, Joseph Hibbert went to his grave a broken man. His name was dragged through the mud as he was labelled among the corrupt and, even at the time of his death, the state, after four years of buck-shuffling, had not one scintilla of evidence to prove the corruption claims made by the OCG.
The Gavel is not for one moment suggesting a cover-up of the OCG's work. In fact, we are of the strong view that the best way to fight corruption is with a searchlight. We believe that the anti-corruption torch is the greatest impetus to good governance, which is a necessary pre-condition for the alleviation of poverty and the creation of economic growth to enable our people to have a better quality of life.
Where we differ from a lot of persons thirsting for the blood of politicians and public officials is on the matter of process.
When an office like that of the contractor general, perhaps the holiest of Jamaica's state institutions, labels someone as corrupt, members of the public view it as a fait accompli. Irrespective of whether a charge has been brought against the individual, let alone a conviction secured, the view most Jamaicans have is shaped by the characterisation of the OCG.
So, while it is always hunting season when it comes to politicians, the country must also recognise that there are serious downsides to our modus operandi. If we continue to have public bodies and individuals operate in a cavalier manner, labelling persons at will, not only will we continue to turn away the best and the brightest from politics, but we will also beat the already creeping public sector into inaction.
While we accept that we are not above public scrutiny, we must endeavour to find that delicate balance between fighting corruption and beating down people; and if we continue on the way we are, Jamaica will be like the cow that gave the pail of milk, then kicked it over.
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