By Peter Espeut
Who is responsible for the education and training of politicians - leaders and followers - in the ethics of their profession and pursuit? It seems to me that, whoever it is, is failing badly, because both major Jamaican political parties are ethically challenged.
'The end does not justify the means' is a fundamental moral principle. No matter how laudable the end may be, attaining it by illegal or immoral means makes the whole thing unethical (and illegal).
Former Minister Richard Azan says he has no regrets for breaking the law, because what is important to him is helping his constituents. And his constituents have no problem with him breaking the law to help them. The law must not be a shackle to progress! They are all ethically challenged.
Listening to the commentary, some say that because former Minister Azan did not profit personally (in financial terms) from the construction of the shops, no political corruption occurred. What the parties' political education departments need to teach their members is that there is much more to political corruption than just personally t'iefing money!
Breaching procurement guidelines for the award of contracts for public works is also political corruption. Cutting corners (which amounts to breaching the law) is political corruption. Favouring your friends with contracts that should be put to tender is political corruption. Influencing (really subverting) the tender process is political corruption. Misuse of government property is political corruption. Influence-peddling is political corruption. All conflict of interest is political corruption.
The trouble is that all of the above is par for the Jamaican political course, and now seems so 'normal' that few in politics see that kind of behaviour as corrupt. People who go into politics for personal gain and advantage are not going, all of a sudden, to be concerned about ethics.
Hanging over the heads of both political parties is the unholy alliance between politics and garrisons and armed thugs. That is political corruption made into a very high science; but we have quite a high tolerance for wrongdoing in this country, and the garrisons and their dons remain.
Is the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) really embarrassed over the Dudus affair? Or the machinations of the One Order Gang? Is the People's National Party (PNP) really embarrassed over the 'Orange Funeral' for Willy 'Haggart' Moore with Cabinet-level attendance? Or the operations of the Clansman Gang in St Catherine and Clarendon?
People with sensitive consciences - including serious church people - should find it hard to associate with either of these parties; in fact, they should find it impossible.
No wonder donors to these political parties do not want their names published, or the size of their contributions made public. Right now, the matter of campaign finance reform is a hot topic; but how much reform is possible if the contributions remain secret?
We must know who gives how much to whom, so we can match it against favours received (contracts, waivers, permits). The IMF is trying to help by forcing the Government to discontinue tax and duty waivers; but the only way to really put an end to influence-peddling is to make political contributions public.
If you don't want people to know you support the party, you must be up to no good. If you are ashamed of the party, don't give money to it.
Hanging over the heads of both political parties is the unholy alliance between politics and political donors. Who paid the fees of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips (US$50,000=J$5 million in today's money)? Why did Trafigura donate more than J$30 million to the PNP?
It is possible that what we think is Jamaican government policy aimed at national development is actually the private agenda of private special interests - local and foreign - lubricated with huge under-the-table payments to politicians and political parties.
Is it reasonable to expect that our politicians will pass legislation to make influence-peddling harder, and cut off their major source of secret funding? I think not. They will resist it tooth and nail.
But I think it would be a travesty of grand proportions to allow them to use money from the public purse to fund their political campaigns, while still receiving these secret contributions. At the very least, if the parties are to get public funds, they must declare ALL their sources of funds, and the amounts.
The Richard Azan affair is not over. Despite being labelled politically corrupt at best by the OCG, he remains a member of parliament, and a justice of the peace. Remember that Azan's stamp as JP - but not his signature - appears on rent receipts. Was the staffer in his constituency office authorised to use his JP stamp? The matter is not yet over.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to email@example.com.