Sat | Dec 10, 2016

'Out a meni' scandals, no change

Published:Thursday | December 4, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Scandals are not a catalyst for requisite changes in governance beyond people being booted from office. It also does not (necessarily?) win elections. I doubt scandals have ever been good for anything but (1) energising political bases, (2) exposing the ineptitude of the state apparatus, and (3) getting more of us frustrated with the status quo.

Yes, we have an insatiable appetite for scandals but that's about it. Their purpose are limited by currency and largely good for political banter and jabs, especially during elections. Scandals get us awfully excited like elementary schoolchildren eagerly anticipating recess. We flare like a fuse when the allegations and/or confirmations of misappropriation of funds, malpractice, nepotism, or such 'delights' are revealed to us. But to what end? How do we the people actually benefit?

Controversies Aplenty

The controversies and scandals have been innumerable. I'm not yet 30 and I've lost count of the vast number of them. Among the countless scandals are the diversion of $500 million worth of hurricane-relief zinc for poor Jamaicans to party loyals (1989); the Shell waiver on duties worth nearly $30 million (1991); $200 million paid to Netserv - a failing IT company (2001); and the corruption and mismanagement of Operation Pride Housing Project (2002). The more recent ones include Trafigura (2006), financial support to Hydel Group of Schools (2008), the celestial one-kilometre road to heaven (in Christiana), JDIP, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, and of course, Outameni.

Two things seem common in all of this. There have always been scandals, no matter which party forms government. It's a feature of poor governance in a fair democracy. So, with each passing moment we are uncannily reminded, in the midst of the saga, by the very people who have previously been similarly accused, of the importance of transparency and accountability and how the lack thereof can make our desperate situation worse. But according to the accused, these people have no moral authority to say anything.

Nothing seems to have changed over the years, except for how often we talk about and commit ourselves to be accountable and the type of scandal that surfaces. Why? Because scandals are just that; a controversy that hardly, if ever, provides an impetus to change laws and policies. A scandal, in my observation, is seemingly more intended to expel one party out of office rather than mobilising the electorate to demand more of/from elected officials (and their appointees) and ensure there is no reoccurrence of a particular procedural malpractice.

Look at what has been happening with the NHT/Outameni issue. As Kerron Williams says, we have been quite "tunnel-visioned [...] focusing on the sale and not on the larger points that elected officials must make all decisions in the interest of the public and must consult them at all times during their decision-making process." Therefore, he said, the JLP in its current messaging "is just a pot calling the kettle black".

The more things change ...

Things won't change when procedural breaches, for example, are made known to us from political party platforms. If we are honest with ourselves, the public response and even the response by those who are being accused of wrongdoing is different when the information comes from the contractor general, auditor general, media or civil-society organisation.

Scandals are just controversy and one political party exposing the other's wrongdoing is like best friends in primary school sharing each other's secrets with classmates for some malicious purpose. Perhaps that's why some of us are being called an "articulate minority".

It is time we hear how we can make the state apparatus better. Bruce Golding was particularly good in this regard. We want to "believe again" that we the people have power, that better will come and that it is indeed good to be Jamaican and to live in Jamaica.

Let us do more than expose and call for resignations. Let us act in the interest of the people; in the interest of our country - not party.

Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.