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Cronyism claim - Lisa Hanna dodges charges but scolded for contract nepotism

Published:Friday | July 3, 2020 | 12:33 AMJovan Johnson/Senior Staff Reporter
Lisa Hanna
Lisa Hanna

Lisa Hanna, a legislator and spokesperson for the Opposition People’s National Party’s (PNP) election campaign, has escaped criminal charges but has been slammed for nepotism and cronyism in the award of millions of dollars in contracts in St Ann in a ruling by the director of public prosecutions (DPP).

Richard Lake, the husband of the St Ann South Eastern member of parliament, might, however, be at risk of being charged.

The ruling has been with Integrity Commission since July 2019 but has not been made public. And DPP Paula Llewellyn, who, on Thursday, confirmed sending her opinion to the anti-corruption body, declined to comment on the matter.

However, The Gleaner has seen a copy of the state prosecutor’s recommendations that were based on a referral from the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), which conducted an investigation into allegations of impropriety and corruption at Hanna’s constituency office and the award of contracts by the St Ann Municipal Corporation.

In November 2017, then Contractor General Dirk Harrison asked the DPP to consider whether conflict of interest was involved in Hanna’s recommendation of contracts to 12 people linked to the PNP.

The DPP was also to rule on whether Hanna, in her capacity as a member of parliament, “wilfully neglected to perform her duty and/or wilfully misconducted herself”.

The ruling said that the OCG’s findings did not rise to the level of a criminal charge, noting that nepotism and cronyism were not offences under the law here. More would be needed to mount a criminal prosecution, it said.

The document said there was no allegation or evidence that Hanna “departed” from established procurement procedures and that a prosecutor could not prove “either wilful misconduct or abuse of public trust”.

“It cannot be said that as a matter of law, the articulated justification is patently irrational,” the document said, adding that breaches of procurement laws or policies were administrative ones, and, therefore, outside of the DPP’s remit.

During an appearance before the OCG, Hanna explained that she selected the contractors because they “proved to be trustworthy”.

But the DPP said: “Mistake, misjudgement, negligence, or even dishonesty in the award of government contracts are not in, and of themselves, sufficient or conclusive to establish a foundation for a criminal charge.”

The DPP’s assessment, which was also sent to the police, was scathing. It argued that the OCG’s report revealed a “culture of negligence and/or unethical management in the award of contracts developed in the St Ann Municipal Corporation acting under the aegis of Ms Hanna”.

“An impartial and fair-minded observer,” the opinion continued, “could legitimately form the view that the St Ann Municipal Corporation was being used as a vehicle through which PNP cronies were, over a period of time, awarded CDF funds contracts with negligent or inadequate supervision as to their execution, which potentially amounts to egregious breaches of the Government of Jamaica procurement policy guidelines.”

It added: “There was undeniable gross mismanagement in the award and execution of contracts by the St Ann Municipal Corporation in the period under review. Known supporters, associates, or affiliates of the PNP disproportionately benefited from the award of contracts.”

The OCG’s investigation focused on 53 directly sourced contracts awarded by the St Ann Municipal Corporation during the period 2011 to 2015. The contracts largely related to debushing and drain-cleaning works.

Meanwhile, the DPP has recommended that charges be brought against Joan McDonald, an executive in Hanna’s constituency office, for making false statements to the OCG.

The OCG had found that McDonald provided false documents to investigators in breach of the law. McDonald also claimed that she was persuaded by Lake to submit false accounts to the OCG.

There was no evidence to support the claim that she submitted forged documents, and the most viable prosecution could be mounted for giving misleading information.

Lake, who was an executive member of the constitutency at the time, could be charged based on the advice of the state prosecutor. The DPP recommended that the police get a statement from McDonald and that Lake could be charged if the woman maintained her claim.

Following the release of the OCG’s report, Hanna’s lawyers from the law firm Knight, Junor and Samuels said preliminary reading of the report showed no criminal culpability on the part of its client or anyone else involved.

The lawyers also contended that the contracts were valued at $13.3 million, some of them for as low as $50,000 each. They argued that it was ridiculous for the contractor general to expect that every constituent, except those affiliated with the MP’s party, should benefit from a work programme.

A copy of the OCG’s report was also referred to the Financial Investigations Division of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service.

The Opposition PNP, which has been critical of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party on corruption-related issues, had referred the Hanna matter to its internal Integrity Commission for review in November 2017.

Details of the DPP’s ruling come as the Holness administration grapples with this week’s resurrection of the Petrojam Scandal following the release of two Integrity Commission reports.

The OCG was one of three entities that merged to form the commission in 2018.

It is not clear what the Government’s Integrity Commission has done since receiving the DPP’s opinion, and the law blocks the anti-corruption body from speaking on its investigations.

Contacted last night, Hanna declined to comment.