Fri | Feb 28, 2020

‘Lock them up!’ - Phillips urges cops to go after politicians fleecing contractors

Published:Friday | October 25, 2019 | 8:56 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Dr Peter Phillips, leader of the Opposition People’s National Party, speaking at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Thursday.

Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips has given political backing to the police to go after politicians unscrupulously dipping into the pockets of local contractors along with predatory police and criminal dons.

The issue was raised on Wednesday night by former Contractor General Dirk Harrison, who said that local contractors were being hounded out of construction projects because of extortion rackets operated by state and private actors.

Harrison did not provide any empirical data beyond anecdotes.

“I would hope that there is no one on our side – and certainly, if it comes to our attention, we will deal with it – who is trying to pressure any contractor to give them kickbacks or money for work,” Phillips said during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum with party officials at the newspaper’s central Kingston’s offices yesterday.

“The only guarantee that democratic societies have of their integrity is good, competent security forces. If the police know of any politician of whatever rank that is extorting a contractor, they must lock him up,” Phillips insisted.

When confronted with allegations by a former PNP general secretary that it was customary for operatives of both political parties to collect kickbacks from investors doing business with the Government, Phillips flatly denied knowledge of such practices.

“I have never known the PNP to have any agent’s fee for anybody with the Chinese or any other contractor,” the PNP president said, as he distanced himself from the claim made in 2016 by Paul Burke, who supported his re-election to the party presidency in September.

Phillips said that the recent arrest of former Education Minister Ruel Reid over allegations of corruption was a positive step in seeking to hold accountable persons allegedly involved in corrupt practices.

“Politicians are not angels, you know, nor are they devils. They are just human beings. If they break the law, somebody should lock them up. Who to lock them up? The police force.

“I believe what has happened recently should be something that bolsters the confidence in the country that, in fact, the security forces are willing to act, no matter the status or office of an individual,” said Phillips.

An Inter-American Development Bank study estimates that corruption costs Latin America and the Caribbean up to 4.4 per cent of gross domestic product, or US$220 billion.

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.

romario.scott@gleanerjm.com