Wed | Sep 23, 2020

Corruption symbolism ‘gets us nowhere’, says Chang of PNP signing

Published:Monday | August 10, 2020 | 12:25 AM
Party Chairman Robert Montague fields questions from journalists in Montego Bay on Sunday. To his left is JLP General Secretary Dr Horace Chang.
Party Chairman Robert Montague fields questions from journalists in Montego Bay on Sunday. To his left is JLP General Secretary Dr Horace Chang.

The public and symbolic signing of a pledge against corruption is not critical to the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), which has said that its focus is on ensuring that action is taken against public officials for the abuse of public office.

It was a thinly veiled critique of the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP), whose 63 prospective candidates for the upcoming general election signed, on Saturday, a declaration against corruption, which PNP president Dr Peter Phillips said would be used to hold them accountable if they are accused of wrongdoing while in office.

Although noting that corruption is an issue of national importance, Chang argued that gestures like the PNP’s have repeatedly been done, with little action.

“We’re very concerned about these excessive symbolisms over and over, which really gets us nowhere. We have to hold people accountable, and that’s what we’re doing.

“We don’t see the signing of a document as a critical thing. What we need to look at is how this Government has responded and the history of the Jamaica Labour Party,” Chang said, noting the passage of the Contractor General Act which, in 2018, made way for the Integrity Commission Act, all under JLP administrations.

“The PNP can’t talk too much,” the JLP general secretary responded to a Gleaner question following the party’s Central Executive meeting in St James on Sunday.

“They have a number of issues they have not allowed to go through. Trafigura, for example. Go to court and speak openly so we know what’s happening,” he said, referring to the political gift to the PNP of more than J$30 million from the Dutch oil-lifting trader, which contravened the Netherlands’ laws.

CORRUPTION ALLEGATIONS

The JLP itself has been hobbled by corruption allegations, including the conflict-of-interest saga that forced Prime Minister Andrew Holness to strip the party’s deputy leader, J.C. Hutchinson, of his ministerial responsibility in the agriculture ministry.

The Gleaner had revealed that Hutchinson recommended a company in which his live-in partner, Lola Marshall-Williams, and mother of one of his children, was a director, be handed control of the state-owned Holland Estate in St Elizabeth.

That was followed up quickly with claims by Prime Minister Andrew Holness that a PNP MP was living on government lands in defiance of notice to leave.

The PNP issued a statement naming its Trelawny Northern MP, Victor Wright, but defended him.

Meanwhile, Chang admitted that the JLP did not know whether any of its current legislators is among the two lawmakers the Integrity Commission has recommended for prosecution.

“I’ve not seen the list, but the law will take its course,” he said as Marlene Malahoo Forte, the attorney general, whispered to him. “Bear in mind, most of that has to do with their reporting to the Integrity Commission as opposed to acts of committal.”

“Once we get the information, we’ll have to examine that. We have, in fact, disallowed several candidates because of adverse traces both at the local and national levels.”

DUE DILIGENCE

Chang said that the party has done its due diligence on its presumptive representatives.

Party Chairman Robert Montague, who attended the press briefing, said that the party has held workshops on corruption with its slate of representatives.

Deputy Chairman Dr Aundre Franklin gave a one-hour lecture on campaign financing and reporting at Sunday’s meeting.

In its 2019-2020 annual report, the Integrity Commission, Jamaica’s corruption watchdog, revealed that the five – two current and three former parliamentarians – were referred to its prosecutorial arm in the last fiscal year.

Their names have not been made public, and the country remains in the dark about when the cases were referred to the commission’s corruption prosecution division and whether steps have been taken to bring them before the court.

“Four of these persons were reported for non-presentation of additional information required to complete the examination of their statutory declarations and one for non-presentation of statutory declaration,” the commission disclosed in the annual report, which was released on June 30, 2020.

There has been no update from the commission on actions being taken by its corruption prosecution.