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EDITORIAL - Trafigura, transparency and party financing

Published:Wednesday | September 26, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The Trafigura affair is not only back on the national agenda, but with a new and dramatic twist that ought to refocus attention on the matter of morality in governance and reinforce the need for laws that prescribe the behaviour of political parties.

First, however, we wish it to be pellucid that this newspaper makes no pronouncement on the legal efficacy of arguments adduced on behalf of the two governing People's National Party (PNP) officials - its leader, Portia Simpson Miller, and chairman, Robert Pickersgill - that their Cabinet member status now provides them with immunity from providing evidence to the Dutch authorities under the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between Jamaica and the Netherlands.

Nor do we question the constitutional and/or other legal merits raised by them and the other PNP officials who have challenged the basis, and the process, by which they were ordered to give evidence. Indeed, the capacity and integrity of our judicial system, at its various tiers, to wade through the issues and arrive at legally fair and appropriate rulings is unquestioned.

However, there are other, and related, issues that can be publicly ventilated without compromising the judicial proceedings.

In this context, it is useful to recall the development of his issue.

Trafigura is a Dutch commodity trader that had a contract to take delivery of and trade on the markets, crude oil that used to be supplied to Jamaica by Nigeria under a preferential regime. In 2006, Trafigura transferred the equivalent of J$31 million to a bank account that was effectively controlled by then PNP General Secretary Colin Campbell and other party colleagues.

The PNP insisted that that money was a gift to help finance its conference. Trafigura claimed it to be payment for services provided by the outfit in whose name the account was registered.

The problem for Trafigura, and the PNP officials caught in the affair, is that a political 'contribution' of the kind made by Trafigura would be illegal in Holland. The Dutch wanted to know whether the firm was paying bribes. The Dutch authorities, therefore, evoked the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty in asking Jamaica to get statements from the PNP officials.

When the proceedings started, the PNP had lost the Government. A local judge had ruled that these proceedings should be in open court. Mrs Simpson Miller and her colleagues raised a number of constitutional and other legal concerns about the judges' ruling, which is now the subject of a hearing by the Full Court presided over by a panel of three judges.

But now the PNP has again formed the Government and Mrs Simpson Miller is back as prime minister. Mr Pickersgill is a member of her Cabinet. Their lawyers argue that Cabinet rank gives them immunity from questioning under the Mutual Legal Assistance arrangement. Perhaps!

We believe that in a country where corruption - real and perceived - is pervasive, such an argument, whatever its legal merit, will only breed deeper cynicism. It does the PNP, and Jamaica's politics in general, no good.

We believe that leaders should, within an appropriate legal framework, be open, and willingly so, to legitimate questioning about the funding of their parties.

Indeed, this case again highlights the logic for urgent legislation for the registration of political parties, state support for their operations and for transparency in their funding.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.