Mon | Oct 26, 2020

Extortion racket - Former corruption czar says politicians, dons, police fleecing contractors

Published:Thursday | October 24, 2019 | 1:28 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Dirk Harrison
Dirk Harrison

In a stunning revelation yesterday evening, former Contractor General Dirk Harrison detailed how the pockets of local contractors are raided by politicians, the police, and dons although already faced with stiff competition from foreigners who enjoy vast concessions.

Harrison, who resigned in September from the Integrity Commission as acting director of corruption prosecutions, said that he knew of contractors who refused to vie for government contracts because it was no longer profitable for them because of endemic corruption between the processes of bidding and competition.

“Foreign and local contractors must be required to operate on a level playing field. You cannot – well, it ought no to – give preferential treatment to non-nationals to the detriment of local contractors. You cannot allow foreign contractors to avoid taxes and custom duties by virtue of exemptions and waivers and local contractors are not given that benefit. The economies of scale are such that the local contractors cannot competitively submit bids, much less make a profitable return, when mitigating factors include extortion and corruption.

“In speaking to a contractor, he indicated he would not bid on any more government contracts. He said when he tried to make 50 per cent profit ... having to pay the local don in the community, the member of parliament, and the police, there was nothing left for him, so it was no longer profitable,” said Harrison during a public lecture at St Luke’s Anglican Church in St Andrew.

His jaw-dropping revelations were met with whispers in the audience, which included Bishop of Kingston Robert Thompson and noted attorney-at-law Lloyd Barnett.

Harrison said that there was urgent need to address the corruption plaguing Jamaica but admitted that many might be in denial about the gravity of the problem.

Harrison revealed that in 2016, the then Office of the Contractor General gathered data showing that the value of government contracts awarded was approximately US$867 million.

“That’s a lot of money. A lot for everyone; there is no need for greed,” Harrison said.

The former contractor general said that blanket corruption was stifling the country’s growth prospects, even as he fingered the private sector for being deeply involved in malfeasance as well.

“We must have a renaissance now, not a revolution or riot ... . But unfortunately, in our country, we are accustomed to seeing people crying for justice by bearing placards. It is the only thing that successive governments respond favourably to,” he told the audience.

He continued: “It is not that parson must not christen him pickney first. He must not do it at all. The notion of favouritism and nepotism, conflict of interest ... they must be avoided, they must be rejected, and we must make people know about it.

“We must create a safe environment that persons feel secure in giving information and sharing information with law enforcement. The public service must be preserved as an honourable place. Whether you are from uptown, downtown, or foreigner, you must be prosecuted and subjected to scrutiny and the rule of law,” said Harrison, while railing against the “buying of approvals, permission to build houses ... allegedly through municipal councils”.

Jamaica is the 70th least corrupt nation out of 175 countries, according to the 2018 Corruption Perception Index, undertaken by Transparency International. Corruption in Jamaica averaged 72.32 from 1998 until 2018, reaching an all-time high of 99 in 2009 and a record low of 45 in 2002.