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EDITORIAL - In the wake of 'Bebe'

Published:Wednesday | May 28, 2014 | 12:00 AM

It is neither our intention to speak ill of the dead, nor to trespass on functions that are properly the responsibility of the court. But the murder this week in Montego Bay of Kenrick 'Bebe' Stephenson reminds us of the issue surrounding standards to which people in political leadership should be held, and raises serious questions that require answers from the governing People's National Party (PNP).

Indeed, the PNP's leader and Jamaica's prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, often repeats her commitment to integrity in public life and declared at her inauguration in January 2012 that her administration would be intolerant of corruption. Prior to the general election of December 2011, Mrs Simpson Miller caused her party to establish an integrity commission, made up of leading citizens, to vet people who offered themselves as candidates for the party, to ensure that they were of good character, and whose past or current actions and/or behaviour would not bring the PNP into disrepute.

MESSAGE OF TRUST

The larger point, we assumed, was to send to the electorate a message of trust, that the people who represented the PNP in the Legislature could be depended upon to uphold the law and honestly execute the functions with which they were charged - whether in the Legislature or on the executive. We expect the same commitment from the PNP and its officers in all spheres of the organisation.

And that brings us to the issue of Kenrick Stephenson, who, without the rest of us paying attention, unfortunately, was weeks before his death, elected as vice-chairman of the party's West Central St James constituency organisation. The chairman is Sharon Ffolkes-Abrahams, an immigration and diaspora activist who relocated from Canada to contest the 2011 election.

We take those posts seriously. Including the one to which Mr Stephenson was elected. He would be expected to be an important standard-bearer for the PNP in the constituency, in his region and on the national stage, for a political party can only be as good as its constituent parts, and its constituency organisations, if it is serious, are the foundations upon which the national institution stands.

LOTTERY SCAM ALLEGATIONS

In 2012, Mr Stephenson, who, but for his death, would be an important standard-bearer for the PNP in St James and western Jamaica, was arrested by the police and accused of being a mastermind of what is commonly referred to in Jamaica as the lottery scam - that scheme through which mostly elderly Americans have been fleeced of scores of millions of dollars, and was the subject of a hearing by the US Senate. At its height, Julian Robinson had to travel to the US to smooth ruffled feathers and ward off sanctions against Jamaica.

That was not all. Mr Stephenson was also charged and fined for stealing electricity at his home and was arrested on a raft of other charges. At the time of his death, some of the cases against Mr Stephenson remained unresolved.

We, assuming that the PNP takes its rhetoric about integrity in public life seriously, would appreciate, even at this stage, to know on what basis Mr Stephenson was declared fit and proper to hold such a high post in the party, and what systems, if any, are in place to vet prospective office holders.

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