Columns

Holness must act decisively to truly deal with corruption

Richard Hugh
Blackford

Thursday, August 02, 2018

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Corruption has always been the bane of political administrations in Jamaica. But to anyone paying attention, it is clear that this Jamaica Labour Party Government is attempting to rewrite the book on corrupt practices in politics and governance.

The events of the past four months, underlined by the probe at the nation's oli refinery Petrojam, has revealed a meandering trail of alleged misuse or misappropriation of funds. From reports gleaned, this has resulted in millions being paid by Petrojam to two firms under questionable circumstances. In addition, there are reports of significant cost overruns for a construction project, reports of millions paid out as donations to particular politically aligned constituencies, the high staff turnover, nepotism and cronyism, all of which points to a great possibility that the subject minister with responsibility for the country's energy and technology portfolio had been derelict in the execution of his duties.

The situation has not been helped by the reported abuse of authority and the absenteeism of the chairman, worse, his presence at public expense. The engagement of a human resources manager who, it is suggested, is not the most qualified to hold the job, yet earning in approximately $13 million per annum, makes a mockery of the engagement process for State employees. In none of the instances cited has the minister made any attempt to act, thus allowing the continuity of the blatant abuse.

If the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) issue was not enough, there is the case of the National Energy Solutions (NESol), in which its managing director, Carolyn Warren, it was revealed, had not only been in the company's employ, but on her appointment as managing director has a fiduciary responsibility despite having more than six previous criminal convictions, including convictions for dealing in and trafficking cocaine, as well as several convictions for larceny. It is instructive that an employee from this same entity has recently been arrested and charged with money laundering after the police held him with over $85 million.

In each of the instances at PCJ/Petrojam and NESol, there has been a doubling down by the management in defence of these individuals and a deafening silence by the responsible minister.

Given the extent of our political divide, there is a general expectation for muted public responses as Jamaica Labour Party supporters have been quick to point out the ills of the People's National Party while it formed the Government. Our problem, though, goes deeper.

We are a country with very paltry financial resources and the appropriation of same for the benefit of a handful of chosen individuals condemns the country to the continuing habitation of poverty and decadence. This kind of corruption must end once and for all, and now is the time.

I recall Andrew Holness, on being sworn in as prime minister on March 3, 2016, stating: “I stand here humbled by the awesome power of you, the people, and I commit to doing right by you. The people are sovereign, and their views and votes must never be taken for granted.” It is time for Holness to give value to those words by taking a decisive step against institutional corruption.

That apart, the Opposition must also demand that the police be brought in to conduct investigations in the operations at NESol and that its board of management be terminated and reconstituted.

Richard Hugh Blackford is a self-taught artist, writer and social commentator. He shares his time between Coral Springs, Florida, and Kingston, Jamaica. www.yardabraawd.com. Send comments to the Observer or richardhblackford@gmail.com.

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