The Unelected

“The Unelected.” That sounds like a movie or TV drama title, doesn’t it? “The Unforgiven.” “The Missing.” And so on.

Yesterday lunchtime, I was gathering my belongings and about to leave Gordon House as a parliamentary committee meeting drew to a close. Anti-corruption campaigner, former politician and University of the West Indies professor Trevor Munroe had just made a submission to the parliamentary Joint Select Committee examining draft legislation to establish a single anti-corruption agency with prosecutorial powers. I was honored to join a bright young group of volunteers and staff members from National Integrity Action (NIA), a non-profit lobby group focusing on corruption, transparency and accountability issues in government founded by Professor Munroe three years ago. NIA has been advocating for a single anti-corruption agency for some time now. The Committee held its first meeting in October, and has some way to go in its deliberations, I would say.

Senator Mark Golding, Minister of Justice, chairs the joint select parliamentary committee examining draft anti-corruption legislation.
Senator Mark Golding, Minister of Justice, chairs the joint select parliamentary committee examining draft anti-corruption legislation.

But I was stopped in my tracks. I stopped shoveling things into my bag, and listened. Government Senator and Committee member Lambert Brown felt compelled to speak just as the Chair, Minister of Justice Mark Golding was wrapping up. Senator Brown, who had been making some noise earlier about what he saw as the illegitimate power of “non-elected people” (he used the word “divine” at one point) decided to underline his complaint, as a kind of parting shot.

Now, Senator Brown is a trade unionist, with strong socialist credentials, who recently spoke out against the removal of provisions in the Sexual Offences Act legalizing marital rape (aren’t Jamaican citizens his brothers and sisters any more?) But he saw fit to launch into a diatribe against the “loose, irresponsible behavior of civil society.” Jamaican civil society groups, he alleged, are “not accountable” and “not elected” and so its members should not be allowed to sit on public bodies such as the Integrity Commission (which also made a submission at the Committee meeting).

Senator Lambert Brown.
Senator Lambert Brown.

Question: Who elected you, Senator Brown? Answer: He was appointed by the Prime Minister (yes, he is also unelected) thanks to his political loyalty. Fact!

Senator Brown is miffed at the decision by two civil society umbrella groups – the 51% Coalition and the environmental sector – to suspend participation in the Partnership for Jamaica, headed by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. In earlier posts I shared the letters presented by these groups, representing a fair-sized chunk of Jamaican civil society. The withdrawal was prompted by concern over the use of National Housing Trust (NHT) contributors’ money to purchase the Outameni tourist attraction – which seems to have been, on reflection, the straw that broke the camel’s back for many Jamaicans seeking greater transparency and accountability in governance. Those are the concerned citizens that represent “irresponsible” civil society (the Senator repeated this word a few times).

So, you could call Senator Brown’s comments a mere political backlash, in defense of his involvement with the NHT and his continued presence on its board. He was one of those who refused to step down, after several others had resigned in embarrassment. Would he like to see the boards of all government entities stuffed with political hacks and sympathizers? It appears so, although he did not explicitly state it.

Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe. (Photo: Gleaner)
Executive Director of National Integrity Action Professor Trevor Munroe. (Photo: Gleaner)

The erudite Professor Munroe responded swiftly and cogently to the Senator’s dismissal of civil society. The United Nations Convention on Corruption, he noted – which Jamaica has signed onto – specifically mandates governments to encourage the active participation of civil society groups and non-governmental organizations in fighting corruption (see Article 13). If you look at the UN websites you will see anti-corruption training materials for civil society, and so on. Article Three of the Inter-American Convention on Corruption, to which Jamaica is also a signatory, also notes the importance of “mechanisms to encourage participation by civil society and nongovernmental organizations in efforts to prevent corruption.”

There was another aspect of Senator Brown’s comments, not fully reported in the media, which disturbed me. The Senator seemed uncomfortable with the idea of “perception” of corruption by public officials (referring to the Transparency International report) and asked whether there are any reports in Jamaica or elsewhere globally that detail actual corruption. Professor Munroe responded that by its very secretive nature, it is very hard to pin down, but pointed to several sources for anti-corruption information. It is a World Bank indicator. The Global Competitiveness Report and the World Economic Forum pay attention to corruption in their annual reports, for example, as well as the U.S. State Department International Narcotics Strategy Report (INCSR). Closer to home, Professor Munroe noted the DaCosta Commission of Enquiry of 1972 into the administration of a large World Bank loan for education in 1966, which was riddled with corruption; and the controversy over the handling of Operation Pride, which led to the resignation of former Housing Minister Karl Blythe in 2002.

Senator Lambert elaborated further. The Integrity Commission, he noted, had not prosecuted one parliamentarian during the course of forty-one years. This shows that corruption among politicians is mere “perception,” was his clear suggestion. He made some further comments about politicians walking around with this cloud of perception unfairly hanging over their heads, “baseless allegations” made against them, and so on.

Justice Paul Harrison, Chair of the Integrity Commission.
Justice Paul Harrison, Chair of the Integrity Commission.

Senator Brown seems to have missed a couple of things. During his submission to the Committee, the Chair of the Integrity Commission – the retired Justice Paul Harrison, who was appointed in December, 2011 – continually emphasized the Commission’s dire lack of resources. Every year, he reported, the Commission requests a financial analyst and an investigator. Its requests have always fallen on deaf ears. The Commission’s current role is not investigative at all; it has been forced to focus on ensuring that government officials comply with the request to file annual declarations of income and assets. Even then, some do not comply or fail to fully comply with the law in this respect. Minister Golding also noted Government’s tendency to “operate in silos.”  Indeed, despite much talk about “joined-up government,” information-sharing among government agencies is poor. This is a major weakness that the amalgamation of three anti-corruption agencies through this legislation seeks to address. The lack of prosecutions must be seen in this light. As we well know, the current anti-corruption framework is weak and full of holes.

A footnote, here. Responding to Senator Brown’s final outburst, Chair Mark Golding observed, perhaps tellingly: “The issue is the transparency of civil society groups.” We would like to know where civil society groups get their funding from, he commented. Just listing “grants” and “donations” in their ledgers is not enough, he added; we, the Government, would like to know the “source of funding” for these groups.

Yes, Professor Munroe noted, civil society groups must be properly established and registered and Parliament can always move to have them removed from the democratic process if they are, indeed, irresponsible. To which he added, wryly, that we (civil society) would like to know where political parties get their funding from! In my view, frankly, the Government has no right to throw stones from this (less than transparent) glass house at this point in time.

Touché, Professor Munroe. Touché! And that’s for another discussion.

 

Members of the parliamentary Committee who were present yesterday:

Senator Mark Golding (Chair); Arnoldo Brown; Senator Lambert Brown; Delroy Chuck; Senator Imani Duncan Price; Senator Sophia Frazer-Binns; Fitz Jackson; Senator Kamina Johnson Smith; Senator K.D. Knight; Senator Marlene Malahoo Forte; Julian Robinson; Derrick Smith; Senator Alexander Williams.

Minister of National Security Peter Bunting participated in the meeting for a short while, and some of the above members arrived late but it seemed to be a healthy turnout.


10 thoughts on “The Unelected

  1. The Senators are practicing the strategy that the best defense is to go on the attack. Here is some of what they may be feeling defensive about. The OECD Anti-Bribery Convention is recognized as ‘the standard’ in anti-corruption reporting. Unfortunately for Jamaica, this group has long moved on from a perception that we are corrupt,to analysis of the who, what, where, when and how of our poor behavior. We and Haiti are the only Caribbean countries listed in their 2014 Foreign Bribery Report. We are there because of the Mabey & Johnson case. As Senator Brown points out, our Integrity Commission has never found a local politician guilty of corruption. Notice that he could not say ‘court’ as both foreign and Jamaican courts have found Jamaican politicians guilty. In the Mabey case we even accepted reparations ordered by the court to be paid by the company. The Senators have selective memory. We are likely to remain a featured country in these reports next year as it is a certainty that the Trafigura case will be resolved and reported on by then.

    For the real reason why the lawyers for the PNP have decided to drop their immunity case in the Constitutional Court, I suggest readers look no further than Trafigura itself. Local media have completely ignored the fact that just two weeks prior to the appeal being dropped, Trafigura had joined another international convention that deals with transparency – the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. It is obvious that Trafigura is cooperating with their own government as it is impossible for Trafigura to make this statement (http://www.trafigura.com/media/1599/20141112-trafigura-payments-to-governments-policy.pdf) and continue to block the Netherlands government investigation into alleged bribery of foreign officials. In the next few months, I suspect the Senators will have to eat their words..

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    1. Thank you SO much for this incredible background information. This is extremely interesting and I may repost it on my blog to make sure my readers see it, along with other responses to this article. You have also answered my niggling question about Trafigura, which has stayed in my head up until now! This is very interesting. The local media certainly hasn’t done its homework on this one, which I found rather strange considering that it caused as great a furore as the Outameni “scandal.” I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your comments (I hope all my readers will read this too)…Thank you again!

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  2. There is very little political will to tackle corruption. There are measures that have proven effective in other countries which have not gained any traction in Jamaica. The most effective is not special prosecutors or harsher penalties, it is the systematic elimination of “discretion” and the implementation of clear, objective criteria for the granting of licenses, grants, contracts, waivers, and any other good or service provided by the state. This should be a central theme of public sector and legislative reform. It hasn’t happened yet. In another life, I proposed a simple no-cost measure: Every application for a government contract, property, license, waiver, whatever should be published on a website (applicant and proposed terms). On the same website should be published whether or not the applicant was successful, and the terns and conditions that led to the outcome. Of course, neither side found favour with the proposal.

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    1. Dear Wayne, Thank you so much for your comments. I am afraid the first sentence is so painfully true (on both sides of the political divide). If the will was there, it would be done. I am not sure if you have seen the text of the proposed legislation – it is on the Ministry of Justice website. That issue of “discretion” was really not touched on during this meeting, but it is a very good point. I will go back through my notes. I am also going to post the NIA’s submission in full as it does address these areas. Thanks so much! I hope someone will listen (and act) one day..

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  3. An excellent piece! Such a lack of understanding of the role of civil society in a democracy! Not there just to cheer on those who hold public office or remain silent! So many ironies here!

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    1. I know. Tremendous ironies, Susan! But it seems odd to me always that our political leaders cannot see the ironies when they speak on these matters! Extraordinary, isn’t it! I am glad Professor Munroe spelled out the EXPECTED role of civil society in fighting corruption according to international agreements signed by Jamaica. (I will be happy to cheer them on if there was something to cheer about!)

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  4. Taking money from the unelected (recent bill that was passed) and also from private unnamed contributors while insisting on transparency from civil groups sits well with them? Imagine that.

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