ABOVE SUSPICION?

Idle chatter, driven by misinformation and misguided party loyalty, regarding whether an MP’s actions affect his position as a Government Minister, abounds.

Yet again, Jamaican politics missed the point and an opportunity to rebuild trust lost over five decades. Apparently wearing his MP skin, State Minister of Works, Richard Azan, allegedly instructed a contractor to build and rent shops in a Clarendon market without Parish Council approval.  It also appears to be generally conceded that his actions resulted in positive change beneficial to all concerned especially the vendors.  However, there’s also some contention about how rent has been collected in Mr Azan’s office and the use of an official J.P. stamp in that process.

Mr Azan has conceded he made errors of judgment no doubt based on an urgent desire to benefit constituents by cutting through bureaucratic red tape but protests he had no corrupt intention.  Cabinet’s position has been reported by the Gleaner as follows:

          “…the Cabinet office said Azan’s actions are not directly related to his               duties as Minister of State in the Ministry…..

When asked at a post cabinet press briefing why the matter was considered by the cabinet and not the Prime Minister, Information Minister, Sandrea Falconer relied on the widespread interest in the issue as a basis for the entire cabinet to deal with it.  Whereas a Prime Minister has every right (perhaps duty) to take into account cabinet’s views on such as this, the decision as to whether a Minister goes or stays is the Prime Minister’s alone.

What are Mr Azan’s “duties as Minister of State in the Ministry…..”?  How is the erection of commercial housing on government lands not the Housing ministry’s responsibility?  But, even if his actions are not “directly” related, the statement implies they might be indirectly related.  What’s the difference? Does it matter?

The Gleaner report continues:

          “The Cabinet Office then said Azan would remain in office pending the                receipt of a report from the Office of the Contractor General (OCG).

The clear implication from this is, unless the OCG proves corruption, Azan will remain in office.  This begs the question: is proof of corruption, or wrongdoing to that standard, the only point at which a government minister should step aside?  Did Andrew Holness wait on proof of corruption before Mike Henry was removed from the same Ministry?

Cabinet fails to grasp the context within which it operates.  We’re saddled with a flawed and seemingly inflexible governance system.  Under our imported, imposed Westminster system, Ministers, with few exceptions, are appointed from elected MPs.  Accordingly, MPs find themselves (as Ministers) assisting with policy formulation then (as MP) voting on whether their policy should become law.  In that highly conflicted scenario, the accepted standard of conduct cannot be lack of corruption.  In the home of Westminster, the left leaning British tabloid, The Independent, on March 23, 2001, opined “Like Caesar’s wife, a politician should be above suspicion.”

According to the Gleaner;

          “The Cabinet office also said it appears that standard administrative                  procedures may have been overlooked…….

So, we don’t need the OCG to say what the Minister himself admits doing.  What’s admitted doesn’t satisfy the required “above suspicion” standard.  What this does, in the context of the all-powerful status our flawed system grants elected officials, is to raise questions in the minds of the governed, the most important being: Why were procedures “overlooked”?  Did he know of these procedures?  Whether or not he knew, he’s not “above suspicion” of at least incompetence.

The Minister denied personal benefit despite nobody alleging same.  This Billy Bunter behaviour raises more questions.  Was there an “indirect” benefit?  Is there any connection between MP and contractor that could give rise to a collateral benefit in some other, unconnected matter? 

Jamaicans are beginning to lose hope.  They see a mango stealer sent to prison while their leaders ignore “standard administrative procedures” with apparent impunity.  Jamaica’s crisis requires all hands on deck.  But, how can we start scrubbing the deck while skipper, coxswain and boatswain neither accepts responsibility for the ship’s wallowing nor contributes to the sacrifice required to right same? 

Did Cabinet watch Wednesday night’s hockey game in Boston, 48 hours after the terrorist bombings?  In an emotional show of patriotism, every spectator in the packed Bruins stadium sang along with every word of the National Anthem.  Even in a country as divided as the U.S., at the end of the day, there’s trust, faith and hope in the collective nation.  Jamaica needs that.

Peace and Love

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