‘If a dirt, a dirt’ has taken its place in common Jamaican parlance, spurred by the feeling of helplessness during the COVID19 pandemic. But, as any gardener or farmer knows, dirt isn’t just dirt, literally and it’s certainly not one-size-fits-all metaphorically.
The devil is always in the details, but let’s put only a few of the details out there and try to deal with some general principles. Most people expect much from politicians. Despite years of evidence to the contrary, they expect politicians to be paragons of virtue and exemplary in their public conduct. So, they rale quite loudly when, again, politicians throw all of such notions into the wind.
Jamaica has gone through a series of ‘scandals’ involving politicians and their alleged misuse and misdirection of public funds. We aren’t sure if the allegations go to the point of being clear corruption, but there’s often a long trail of negligence, dubiously close personal associations with those getting posts and contracts and some MP, and things that just ‘smell a bit off’. During my lifetime (and this case closed about a year after I came back to Jamaica), only one of these has gotten to the point of a court trial, which went on for over five years, and it worked out in favour of the MP and then former junior energy minister (PNP), Kern Spencer, in the now infamous ‘Cuban light bulb scandal’, where a bill of some J$275 million was racked up to distribute 4 million light bulb donated by the Cuban government. The case was dismissed.
As an aside, I’d just moved to Barbados when the scandal broke and my most vivid recollection was of Mr. Spencer crying in Parliament as the allegations were made by energy minister Clive Mullings (JLP), and Spencer’s party leader, Portia Simpson-Miller, bringing him a handkerchief:
Now, amongst other things, it wont have escaped many that the energy ministry and PetroJam are again in the mix with the latest swirl of allegations of dubious behaviour, by the then-energy minister, Dr. Andrew Wheatley (JLP). The two reports issued last week by the Integrity Commission characterized the former minister negatively in his representations during a probe into donations made by PetroJam to various organisations and causes between April 2016 and March 2018. According to the report, the former minister “was dishonest in his representations concerning Ms Sophia Deer and whether he sought to mislead and did mislead the director of investigation.”
The former minister has now decided to try to protect his reputation by taking this matter to court, making ‘application in the Supreme Court for leave to seek judicial review of the “perverse and irrational” conclusions of the anti-corruption watchdog’, as reported by the Gleaner.
So, let’s see where those breadcrumbs land on the water.
But, as luck (or an example of equal sharing of misery) would have it, just days ago, a biggish rock fell onto the other political party’s toes, when a ruling by the director of public prosecutions was made public with regards to Lisa Hanna (PNP), MP: the Gleaner noted she ‘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)’ and that 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.” [My emphasis.] 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”’.
I’ll understand if you need a moment to reflect on what is not ‘sufficient or conclusive to establish a foundation for a criminal charge’. If you feel the need to consult with a spiritual guide, that would also be understandable. Who wrote the laws? you ask. Please don’t laugh so loudly. 😉
The Gleaner also reported ‘Richard Lake, the husband of the St Ann South Eastern member of parliament, might, however, be at risk of being charged’. In that regard, the police have widened their probe into the matter, though the Counter-Terrorism and Organised Crime (C-TOC) branch says it has been having problems locating key witnesses in the matter.
All of the official allegations and considerations are, however, almost a sideshow to the way in which the parties have rallied behind their embattled MPs. I’ll just say briefly they have circled their wagons. The precise language and form of that is perhaps interesting, though hard to judge at this early stage. So, the PM firmly not dispelling notions that Dr. Wheatley, now resigned from Cabinet, could find himself invited back sends some very clear messages.
In that regard, one cannot lose sight that we are on the take-off approach to another general election and Dr. Wheatley is a formidable figure in the parish of St. Catherine (former mayor of Spanish Town), which has a number of ‘battleground’ seats. The PNP rallying around Ms. Hanna, and saying the ruling is a “full and complete exoneration” and their statement of ‘full confidence’ is also no surprise, and she too is not a trivial piece in the election picture as the PNP’s campaign spokesperson.
One thing I’ve learned about notions of corruption in Jamaican politics is the adage that ‘if it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it’s a duck’ don’t apply here. It needs to be caught, put on the table, checked that it’s webbed feet are indeed a duck’s not a swan’s or goose’s, plucked and cooked, then served with orange sauce to ensure that it has passed all the tests to confirm that it is a duck. We know that’s a hard test.
So, when the Gleaner reported: ‘[DPP]Llewellyn concluded that the contractor general’s report revealed a “culture of negligence and/or unethical management” in the award of 53 Christmas work contracts reportedly valued $13.3 million between 2011 and 2015. She said an impartial and fair-minded observer could legitimately form the view that the St Ann Municipal Corporation was being used as a “vehicle” to benefit PNP cronies’ [my stress] many people would say ‘It’s a duck!’ What else is a culture of negligence and unethical management in the awarding of contracts?
I go back to my favourite analogies, which have to do with sport. Last week a goal was disallowed because the VAR review showed that a player on the goal scoring side ‘handled’ the ball on its way to the goal scorer. Now, that’s the strict interpretation of the current FIFA rules. If you watch the replay, the offending player was falling when his hand touched the ball. Some commentators at the time spoke about how he had no idea what he was doing. But, that’s a probable lie.
One thing about professionals and high-level amateurs versus recreational players is that you rarely don’t know what you’re doing. You do know how to make it appear you don’t know (slight movement of the head, or the feigned protestations, etc.). Plausible deniability is real on the pitch.
One advantage I think former players who become referees have is knowing that players often know what they’re doing and will disguise the bad as well as they can. You process fast and though you cannot predict, you know that a disruptive action is better than inaction. Worst case is you get called for an infraction; best case is you get a good break. Some call that cynical; but it’s part of what you’re trained to do. Take it from me, that despite the protestations (and Spurs manager Jose Mourihno is one of the masters of deception), I’d back the referees. (I’d also not criticize them for not calling it in real time, but with the benefit of replays, those calls must pass a stiffer test.) The ‘tell’ for me was Moura’s reaction to the decision; a pro doesn’t take an unjust decision mildly (no matter what his general character) because perceived personal injustice is the one thing that sends good behaviour out of the window. Players know how that makes the mercury bubble burst out of the thermometer, so watch the video to see the ‘tell’. 😉
So, too, with politicians and it is good to make it appear that ‘negligence’ is in play, except that only a fool or a diehard partisan would think that systematic negligence in only negligence and that unethical management if persistent is anything but a clear attempt to play fast and loose.
Big money flows and lots of tangled interactions are the playground for a lot of fancy footwork that makes money go to places where it is not originally destined. Energy sector activities and land and construction are two well-known areas for this. So, keep looking out for the negligence and unethical management and you’ll often find the money trail goes to places you’d least expect, unless you know who knows whom.
However, in Jamaica, and in politics in general, we know there’s a lot of tit-for-tat (butter for fish) going on all the time, and it’s often what distracts many people from seeing beyond the surface of allegations and almost routine denials, rebuttals and defence. We also know and have accepted that ‘links’ matter, and the good links are often to politicians and the resources they control. So, also, keep focused and things will get clearer.