Tue | Aug 4, 2020

Peter Espeut | Much political corruption not crimes

Published:Friday | July 3, 2020 | 12:29 AM

Some truths bear repeating.

Not everything that is political corruption is a criminal offence because the politicians who make our laws choose not to criminalise all political corruption. They may choose to make stealing a few ackees a criminal offence, but they may decide not make illegal the passing millions of dollars of public funds to their friends. Those who make the laws do not expect that they will ever be caught stealing ackees, but anything that they and their colleagues might one day be tempted to do, it would be in their best interests to not make them criminal offences.

It is so tempting for politicians to appoint their family members and close friends to high-paying jobs, or positions of influence. Even more tempting is the prospect of arranging for them to obtain lucrative government contracts, or waivers of duty or other fees; grateful recipients might even choose to show their appreciation by sharing the spoils. This type of corruption is called nepotism, and the many politicians deemed guilty of it cannot be prosecuted, because the politicians who make our laws have not made nepotism a criminal offence.

I will easily exceed my word limit for this column if I attempt to list all the proven cases of political nepotism since independence; recent cases occurred in the Hanover Parish Council scandal and the Caribbean Maritime University scandal. I don’t need to enumerate how politicians took steps to benefit their wives, sisters, nieces, cousins, and other assorted relatives and babymothers with jobs, contracts, and the like. The director of public prosecutions has made it clear: there is no crime in Jamaica called nepotism. These corrupt politicians are guilty of no crime.

With cases of political nepotism so common in Jamaica, why has it not been made a crime? I will leave that for you to answer.

PROVISIONS FOR EMERGENCIES

To prevent contracts being awarded to friends and relatives – and at inflated prices – the Government has established procurement guidelines; when goods are to be sourced by any government department or agency, at least three quotes must be obtained, and all contracts above a certain amount must be put to tender.

Of course, provisions are always made for emergencies; sole source procurement may be allowed in a crisis situation. Yet it seems that many government agencies and departments are in a perpetual state of crisis, often opting for sole source procurement. This seems to be an easy way of subverting the government-mandated procurement guidelines.

But politicians have made sure that breaching procurement guidelines is not punishable in law, by not making it a criminal offence. In fact, it is not an offence at all, because they are only guidelines, not rules enforceable by law.

With cases of breaches (or avoidance) of the procurement guidelines so common in Jamaica, why has it not been made a crime? I will leave that for you to answer.

As someone who has worked to protect and conserve Jamaica’s natural resources over the years, I have been appalled at the profound conflicts of interest which have been created by the appointment of certain persons and agencies to the board of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA). Interlocking the boards of the NRCA and the Urban Development Corporation was not in the interest of Jamaica’s natural environment.

An egregious conflict of interest took place when the NRCA delegated its natural resource management functions for the bauxite industry to the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, which is responsible for expanding bauxite mining in Jamaica. The widespread damage to the natural environment in areas where bauxite is mined is one result of this.

Knowingly creating conflicts of interest is not a criminal offence in Jamaica. It is considered enough for conflicted persons to declare their interest; failing to do so is not a crime in Jamaica.

The very fact that politicians are put in a position to pass laws to prevent and prosecute political corruption is itself a conflict of interest, and explains why Jamaica’s laws are so ineffective in this area. If it were hard for politicians to benefit from corruption, only honest people would seek political office.

The time has come for the Jamaican public to demand legislation which criminalises all political corruption.

Peter Espeut is an environmentalist and development scientist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com