Trevor Munroe | Lock up the corrupt! Step up youths at risk!
The call from the Jamaican people is getting louder: “Lock up the corrupt!”. With much justification. As each of us struggles to get water – as the Government can barely find $100 million to truck water – consider the following leakages to our public money, documented in successive reports to Parliament from the auditor general, each relating to Petrojam:
- December 7, 2007 – “There were wholesale breaches of the Government Procurement and Disbursement Rules”, totalling $185 million;
- June 17, 2010 – “Numerous procurement breaches were noted ... no written agreements/contracts were presented for payments”, amounting to $274.3 million;
- December 2018 – “In the selection and award of contract…Petrojam frequently contravened the terms of procurement laws” (2010 to 2017), cost $409 million. Over five years “unaccountable losses”, $5 billion.
The prime minister hit the nail on the head in his statement to Parliament on the Integrity Commission Bill (February 1, 2017) – “were it not for … revenue leakage due to corrupt practices, misuse of public funds, we could have achieved much more,” and I add – in drought mitigation, water storage, and trucking water to the most seriously affected areas. Were it not for the corrupt in high places, would we not be able “to find the money”, as the prime minister put it, without significant loan funds to construct the $7.7 billion water-treatment plant at Rio Cobre?
Without jailing the corrupt and sending a message to other wrongdoers, no one should doubt that this scourge shall continue to be the number-one threat. Towards this end, each of us must encourage and support our investigators, our prosecutors, our judges in the courts to act not only with integrity, but also with courage to catch, convict, and jail “the jacket and tie criminals” when found guilty.
GIVE MORE ENCOURAGEMENT
But at the same time, each of us must give more encouragement to the “at risk youth” to turn away from wrongs and to “step up” as so many have done in the past and can do in the present.
One such was born in 1887, in very poor circumstances. Nine of his eleven brothers and sisters died in infancy. His father, despite some redeeming features, was undoubtedly abusive. In fact, he abandoned his mother, his sister, and himself when the youngster was just 14, their entire family thereby facing destitution. But someone saw possibilities in this youngster – a local printer and family friend who made the young man an apprentice – and by age 19, the determination in this youth made him become an accomplished printer. That ‘at risk youth’ yesterday is, since 1964, Jamaica’s first national hero, the Most Excellent Marcus Garvey.
There is another youth born in 1893. His father died when he was six; his mother when he was 16. Disadvantaged and troubled, he moved from school to schools, at one point four school in four years. Eventually, he ended up at a high school where the older boys had a strong tradition of bullying. The youngster wouldn’t take it, got involved almost daily in fist fights, organised what we would call today a gang in school to fight back. On one single day, because of his indisciplined conduct, he was reported by every single teacher to the headmaster.
His mother’s death, however, made him decide to turn over a new leaf, and the deputy headmaster at the school, seeing much promise in this troubled youth, became his mentor and encouraged him to leave the life of the rebel behind. Thereafter, he excelled in academics and sports, won a Rhodes Scholarship and became a great Jamaican. From risky beginnings, this hero became National Hero Norman Washington Manley.
TAKE HEART FROM OUR HEROES
Today, many “youths at risk” should take heart from our heroes’ overcoming adversity and remain determined to do the right thing. One such is Ackaisha Green, the 24-year-old mother of two from James Street in central Kingston. As the story goes, she had to beg her mother $200 to give her son to go to school the very morning she found millions of dollars in a banking machine booth. Yet she returned the money to the rightful owner. “Mi have use fi di money. Mi coulda tek the money, but it no belong to mi. Nuff people say mi shouldn’t do it, but mi gi it back,” she said. This stand is attracting support from many, including HEART Trust.
Another is Jabary Williams, then, a few years ago a 19-year-old youngster from Kidd Lane in Kingston’s inner city. He found a bag containing approximately $100,000. Jabary earned $1,000 a day, when he did find work in a small bakery, but despite much temptation, despite his friends treating him as an outcast, Jabary returned the $100,000 to its rightful owner. A scholarship from Sagicor and an award from National Integrity Action (NIA) gave encouragement to Jabary.
Alongside these beacons of integrity, others become extraordinary pioneers of philanthropy, giving back and seeking nothing in return. One such is NIA’s Ricardo Burke, an unemployed youth who refers to himself as Mr Volunteer, and rightfully so. His selfless work and commitment, along with his committee, led him to establish the Yutes4Change Foundation in Gregory Park, St Catherine.
Two and a half years ago, Yutes4Change launched its Homework and Integrity Centre, set up a breakfast feeding programme for 18 young students every morning, and collaborates with the Forward Step Foundation to organise the ‘StoryTime Pon the Corner’ series in the Gregory Park community. Ricardo regularly leads a group of volunteers to participate in International Coastal Clean-Up Day and to feed the homeless in downtown Kingston.
Yet others become exemplary entrepreneurs, like Diedre Dixon, a 25-year-old mother of five, an NIA Youth Ambassador who has transitioned from being homeless to an award winner in LASCO’s Sustainable Socio-Economic Intervention Entrepreneurship Programme. A resident of Rae Town in central Kingston, Dixon, with the help of a $50,000 grant and a mentor from the LASCO Chin Foundation, makes a living from selling LASCO products in her community. Despite many challenges, business has been so good that she has already employed six other persons to assist her, and despite having a very sick son, is becoming an exemplary entrepreneur.
In building integrity, helping “at -risk youth” step up to do the right thing is as important as jailing the corrupt for wrongdoing.