By Garth A. Rattray
Minister of state in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Housing, the Honourable Richard Azan, did the right thing when he resigned from his ministerial position because of the Spaldings Market scandal. Honourable ministers of government are held in high esteem and none of them should tenaciously hold on to the reins of power if and when there is even a hint of impropriety.
The title 'Honourable' is placed before the name of government officials as a mark of respect. It also carries a great deal of responsibility to always live up to that (entrusted) respect. 'Honourable' is an adjective that means principled, moral, ethical, fair, upright, honest, trustworthy, respectable, credible, noble, and so on.
When the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) report on the Spaldings Market affair concluded that, among many other things, "... careful consideration must then be given to the incidence of the perception of political corruption and the degree of political interference, which forms the basis of the erection of the shops at the Spaldings Market," it cannot be frivolously dismissed.
I totally believe Mr Azan when he stated unequivocally: "I had no intention to act in a corrupt manner and at no time did I derive any personal benefit." Since he apparently had no personal gain from the (deemed-to-be-illegal) shops that were constructed and rented on the grounds of the Spaldings Market, what is the big deal?
Well, the problem is not whether or not he gained personally and/or directly from the shops being there; the problem is with the basis of putting them there, the process through which they got there, and who gets paid the rent that was collected.
The entire debacle ended up representing a departure from the rules and regulations governing who can do what, where, why, how and when on government lands. In this case, procedures were flouted. The end does not justify the means.
So, if Mr Azan only wanted to assist his desperate constituents, how can that be seen as corrupt? Looking at the best representative definition of 'corrupt', we see "dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery. The action of making someone or something morally depraved or the state of being so ... ."
Of course, Mr Azan has done nothing like that. However, when we look specifically at the most benign definition of political corruption, we see this simple and succinct phrase: "the misuse of government power".
All this boils down to one question: Even if his intentions were good and admirable, did the Honourable Richard Azan (mis)use the power entrusted in him as MP or minister of government to place the shops there? I submit that he did. Perhaps unthinkingly, perhaps inadvertently, but he certainly did.
In other words, no one else could have unilaterally sanctioned the placement of those shops on government property. It took that kind power to circumvent or totally ignore all the proper procedures in placing those shops there.
Imagine, if you will, that a private citizen of substantial financial means offered to place those shops there for free. Can you see him/her getting through all that red tape? He/she would have to be absolutely non-partisan. There would be a long list of procedures (including bidding) and innumerable council and OCG meetings on the matter.
Then the council would have to stipulate that the shops would be allocated equally to supporters of both major political parties. And, their placement (even on the periphery of the parking lot) would have come in for significant scrutiny. Let's not even go into the matter of the municipal power supply to the shops.
It took 'political power' to get those shops there, and that is the reason why the OCG found a perception of political corruption.
Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.