EDITORIAL - Azan's voice and Esau's hand?

Published: Thursday | December 5, 2013 Comments 0

Whatever may be the public's current perception of him, Richard Azan can now hardly escape the characterisation, rightly or otherwise, of loyal political fodder.

Alternatively, he may be seen as one who pays for his political gifts: in this case, speaking in his own voice while extending the political hand of Esau.

The Richard Azan to whom we refer is the man who, less than a month ago, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller all but snuck back into her government as the junior minister for transport and works after prosecutors relieved him from the threat of criminal charges over the Spaldings Market affair.

Mr Azan, by his own admission, and in opposition to government procurement rules and in excess of his ministerial or legislative authority, essentially gave approval to a private contractor to build shops in the car park of the Spaldings Market, which is in the authority of the Clarendon Parish Council.

Then Mr Azan's constituency office was used akin to a rent-collection agency for these shops, an action of which he was not ignorant.

No charge to answer

Dirk Harrison, the contractor general, invited the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider criminal charges against Mr Azan for conspiracy to defraud the Clarendon Parish Council. That office said he had no charge to answer.

Mr Harrison, in a legal non sequitur and jurisdictional overstep, in our view, also accused Mr Azan of "political corruption".

Most people would have expected Mr Azan to try to get Spaldings quickly and quietly behind him. But this week he filed papers seeking a declaration that the contractor general had neither basis nor jurisdiction to probe the shop-building at Spaldings Market.

He, in part, argues there was no government contract at issue in the construction, and that shops were the property of no government entity, including the Clarendon Parish Council.

It ought to be unsurprising if Mr Azan's action is interpreted as an effort by the Government to relitigate an issue which it previously lost and from which it announced a decision to withdraw in favour of a legislative solution.

Dr Omar Davies, Mr Azan's immediate boss, had argued that the Office of the Contractor General had no power to demand information from a committee he had established to help in the development and monitoring of three projects the Government had on the drawing board. There was no contract to monitor.

After a judge held it was the law, on the basis of a previous ruling by another court, that the contractor general has the power to monitor "the pre-contract stages of government contracts and to obtain information from public bodies prior to the award of such contracts", the Government insisted that the matter be heard by the full court.

Last July, the administration abandoned that case and indicated that it would change the law to suit its purpose. It has not indicated a change of heart.

But the Azan suit is likely to embrace most of the issues covered by, if not sit upon the same foundation of, Davies' claim. The Government, in that sense, may be getting a second, sleight-of-hand grab at Esau's birthright.

If perchance we are right, it represents the kind of behaviour and absence of transparency that exacerbate the perception of corruption in a country where the fact of it is bad enough.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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