Jamaica has to clean up the mess of corruption

...that includes the Riverton dump

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Saturday, April 18, 2015

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Our survival depends on running a clean, efficient system, which means the politics must be clean before the Government can be clean. -- Lee Kuan Yew

Antagonism between the Senate and the emperor, decline in morals, political corruption and the Praetorian guard, fast expansion of the empire, constant war and heavy military spending, barbarians' knowledge of Roman military tactics, failing economy, unemployment of the working class, [the plebs], the 'mob' and the cost of the 'games' slave labour, and Christianity: Most credible Roman historians, inclusive of Sallust, Cicero, Livy, Horace, Virgil and Cassius Dio agree that the list above constitute the major causes for the fall of the Roman Empire.

Of all the causes of Rome's demise, Roman and contemporary [for example, world renowned Ramsay MacMullen, former professor at Yale], scholarship seem to place more weight on political corruption and its seismic impact on the empire. Horace, for example, categorised Rome's corruption as perverse, evil and even intergenerational:

"Aetas parentum, peior avis, tulit

Nos nequiores, mox daturos

Progeniem vitiosiorem."

"Our fathers were worse than our grandsires; we have deteriorated from our fathers; our sons will cause us to be lamented."

Livy was more trenchant: "Rome was originally, when it was poor and small, a unique example of austere virtue; then it corrupted, it spoiled, it rotted itself by all the vices; so, little by little, we have been brought into the present condition in which we are able neither to tolerate the evils from which we suffer, nor the remedies we need to cure them."

Unchecked corruption which metamorphoses into an almost incurable sore is the death knell of many great empires. The impact of corruption by commonsense deduction is even more deleterious on small economies like Jamaica. Apparently some folks just cannot understand that simple fact and continue to bury their heads in the sand like ostriches, some for political convenience.

Last week at a press briefing, co-chair of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC), Richard Byles, opined that he was puzzled that "despite the excellent performance of the Government in the International Monetary Fund agreement for almost two years, there haven't been greater investments in the country." Additionally, Byles said that: "If there is no natural disaster, our economy will grow by two per cent in 2015."

"Jamaica is projected to be the worst performer out of 189 countries in terms of growing its economy over the next 15 years. The projected fall in Jamaica's ranking is predicated on growth rates of below two per cent for every year until 2030, with the country's GDP expected to be just over US$18 billion by that time." That's according to the US Department of Agriculture's latest macro-economic projections released last week.

Byles, in my estimation, is a decent Jamaican. His puzzlement may be solved if he were to read Roman history, especially after the Second Punic War. There are numerous parallels between what's happening to the Jamaican economy and that period.

Jamaica is perceived as a severely corrupt country by many of those who have the kinds of capital that can make this country grow really fast. Our business climate is not ripe for multitudinous sustainable investment. Long-term investor-confidence is like a fleeting illusion. As a consequence, we have mostly 'sugar cane plantation model'-type projects. This is one of the results:

"Foreign-owned companies repatriated a large portion of the US$104 million ($12b) that left the island as investment income or dividends in the September 2014 quarter.

"It represents the highest rise in outflows for the period, up more than 75 per cent year on year, according to the balance of payments accounts released by the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) last week with an accompanying statement.

" 'There was an increase of US$51.3 million in the deficit on the income sub-account, mainly reflecting higher imputed profit repatriation by direct investment companies," stated the BOJ in its statement about investment income at US$104 million from US$58.8 million a year earlier.'" (Jamaica Observer, January 15, 2015)

And it's not just foreigners who believe Jamaica is overly corrupt. Last year, about 80 per cent of Jamaicans who were polled said the Government was neither transparent nor accountable.

In 2014, Jamaica fell two places -- from 83 out of 177 countries in 2013 to 85 out of 175 countries -- in the Transparency International rankings. The same people and ideas that got us into this state will not get us out.

The People's National Party, which has been in power 22 of 26 years, is primarily responsible, as they have watched us descend to an almost incurable state of corruption in Jamaica. The numerous scandals during the regime only add to that history. They are now like edifices in the minds of local and foreign investors.

The priorities of this regime are pinnacled upon personal/reciprocal friendships and, most importantly, umbilical loyalty to party. The recent public defence of Jennifer Edwards, former executive director of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSMWA)and president of the PNP's Women's Movement, by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is testimony. Similarly, Dr Fenton Ferguson, Richard Azan, Phillip Paulwell and A J Nicholson were stoutly defended by Simpson Miller when they committed variant misdeeds in spite of calls by civil society and large segments of the media for their sacking. Has a 'corruption of conscience', a term made popular by National Hero Norman Manley, replaced traditional PNP values? Norman Manley and the founders of the PNP must be turning in their graves at the sight of what the party has become.

A front-page story in The Gleaner of Tuesday, February 9, 2002, is testimony to the many scandals that have occurred under the watch of PNP administrations. The root of these scandals is an amalgam of ineptitude and a cruel waste of public resources, the results of which have chronically impoverished Jamaica and damaged our credibility abroad. The Gleaner listed the cost of major money scandals:

(PLEASE MAKE TABLE)

Shell Waiver (1991) -- $29.5 million

Zinc (1989) -- $500 million

Furniture (1991) -- $10.6 million

Public sector salaries (1998) -- $60 million

NetServ (2001) -- $220 million

Operation Pride/NHDC (1997-present) -- $5.5 billion projected

TOTAL= $6.320 billion

Add to those NSWMA (2005) $2 billion and Sandals Whitehouse (2005) another $2 billion. Where are some of the principals who presided over these mega losses to taxpayers? These funds could have been used for the greater benefit of all Jamaicans. The hardships during the last six years of wage freeze could have, possibly, been less devilish for public sector workers. That, however, is seemingly not the major objective of the PNP. Their obsession is acquiring and retaining State power at all costs.

"This we know: All things are connected," said Chief Seattle in his famous letter to President Franklin Pierce in 1854, when the United States Government aggressively offered to buy two million acres of land occupied by the natives in the north-west. There is a causal link, not just correlation between two decades of mismanagement by PNP administrations and 'numbers on a page'; economic growth.

Why is Jamaica's economy the sick man of the Caribbean? P J Patterson described our politics as a "fight for scarce benefits and spoils carried on by hostile tribes perpetually at war". Dr Peter Phillips told us: "The man who plays by the rules gets shafted." And life chairman of the PNP told us: "We believe it is best for the PNP to form the Government, therefore, anything that will lead us or cause us to be in power is best for the PNP and best for the country."

Too many of us hear but we don't listen, hence we do not comprehend. Two weeks ago Barack Obama told the youngsters at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, that debt forgiveness was not the answer. Jamaica's economy needs to "grow really fast", he said. I wonder how many listened, not just heard, but listened, when he spoke about the crippling effect and cost of corruption on small economies like ours. I wonder how many listened to his admonishments on keeping governments accountable and honest; about the government's responsibility to reveal comprehensively deals inked with the Chinese ostensibly for the benefit of the Jamaican people. Did the majority hear as well listen?

The Office of the Contractor General, since its creation by former Prime Minister Edward Seaga, has been telling us about waste, misuse, abuse, and even misappropriation of public funds for 'donkey years' as country people would say. A few snippets from recent reports might jolt memories if they are not immersed near to the point of drowning in the political trough:

Exhibit A: NHT contractors investigation report; released January 2013

"#6. The OCG found that the cumulative value of the contracts which were awarded to the five (5) suspected 'sham contractors', under the auspices of the NHT's Small Contractors' Programme was in the amount of $74,103,511.74." p 400

Exhibit B: Allegations regarding the contract termination and award practices at the National Solid Waste Management Authority; released February 2014

"#31. In concluding, the OCG has found that there were several breaches of the GPPH (May 2001 ) in the award and/or termination of several contracts by the NSWMA during the period of 2007 to 2008. In this regard, the following irregularities were identified:

a. Award of contract to unregistered contractors;

b. The procurement process was not undertaken pursuant to the provisions of the GPPH (May 2001);

c. Several contracts were awarded in an irregular manner;

d. The requisite approvals were not received from the procurement committee, NCC, and the Cabinet as the case might have warranted;

e. Services were being performed by contractors, for and on behalf of the NSWMA, without formal written contracts;

f. Contractors were operating based upon contracts which had expired and which, in some instances, had expired in excess of one (1) year;

g. Contracts were terminated without the requisite notification period being observed;

h. Payments were withheld by the NSWMA for services which were rendered on the basis of the contractors' failure to provide a valid TCC." pp-189-190

Exhibit C: Special report of investigation conducted concerning allegations of nepotism, conflicts of interest, irregularity/impropriety in the award of government contracts at the Hanover Parish Council to persons affiliated with the then mayor; released March 2015

"#3. The OCG concludes that 22 contracts, with a cumulative value of $3,744,791, were awarded by the Hanover Parish Council to relatives and persons affiliated with Miss Shernet Haughton. The award of contracts to the stated persons was as a direct result of the recommendations made by Miss Shernet Haughton. In making said recommendations, Miss Shernet Haughton failed to declare that she had a personal or prejudicial interest in relation to these contracts and contractors." p 123

Exhibit D: Special report of investigation conducted into the circumstances concerning the award of certain contracts to One Touch Construction and Equipment Limited, formerly One Touch Tours and Equipment Limited, by the St Thomas Parish Council.

"#7. The OCG concludes that the actions of the St Thomas Parish Council in awarding construction-related contracts to a contracting entity that was registered by the NCC in the category of Transportation and Haulage, specialising in garbage collection and disposal, was not only irregular and a breach of the GHPPP, but further had the potential to cause great and inordinate danger to human life. In this regard, the action of the parish council amounts to an egregious disregard for public safety and welfare." p 69

Richards Byles is perplexed as to why investors are not flocking to our shores. Maybe he needs to look again at how our institutions are ranked by the 2014-2015 Global Competitive Report/Index (GCI). How are Jamaica's institutions ranked vis-à-vis 144 economies of the GCI? Property rights, 52; Intellectual property protection, 62; Diversion of public funds, 86; Public trust of politicians, 95; Irregular payments of bribes, 75; Judicial independence, 42; Favouritism in decisions of government spending, 94; Wastefulness of government spending, 125; Burden of government regulations, 126; Efficiency of legal framework in settling disputes, 88; Transparency of government policymaking, 109; Business costs of crime and violence, 143; Business costs of terrorism, 57; Organised crime, 138; Reliability of police services, 105; Ethical behaviour of firms, 74; Strength of auditing and reporting standards, 35; Efficiency of corporate boards, 50; Protection of minority shareholders' interests, 41; Strength of investor protection, 68.

It's a simple equation, we need to cull crime, corruption and poor governance. No degree in mathematics is needed here.

Riverton Dump saga

The most recent Riverton fire will cost taxpayers some $235 million and counting. I wonder when we will get an update on the additional cost regarding loss of production time and impact on our health. 'Birdies' have said that the Minister of Local Government Noel Arscott needs the votes of the Women's Movement, headed by Jennifer Edwards, if he is to retain his vice-president post come September. Are we likely to see the new board reappointing Edwards, say, maybe with a different title and scaled-down responsibilities? 'Birdies' say Lisa Hanna, Mikael Phillips and Dayton Campbell are lining up for higher duties. Brown Burke and Arscott could be dethroned.

Last week we got a scare. Initially the Jamaican Fire Brigade told us that the Riverton Dump was on fire. That was soon corrected by the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management. We all breathed a sigh of relief -- even certain owners of D10, D9, and other heavy-duty equipment. Or did they?

A possible solution to the Riverton Dump:

'Sweden must import trash for energy conversion because its recycling programme is so successful' by The Huffington Post's Bonnie Kavoussi

"Because it has become so good at recycling, Sweden now is importing 800,000 tons of trash each year from other European countries, including Norway, to power its waste-to-energy programme, Public Radio International reports. Burned waste powers 20 per cent of Sweden's district heating as well as electricity for roughly 250,000 Swedish homes.

"Swedish households recycle most of their waste; only four per cent of it ends up in landfills, according to PRI. Sweden makes it mandatory for households to separate recyclables from trash, and producers help handle waste management.

"In contrast, Americans recycled just 34 per cent of their waste in 2010, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency, and more than half of US household waste in 2010 ended up in landfills, 136 million tons of garbage in total.

"Trash-burning facilities in the United States handle only a small portion of US waste, and most of the burned trash ends up in landfills, according to The New York Times.

"In just one example of US waste, Americans throw away nearly half of their food, costing roughly $165 billion per year, according to a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council."

After trying out a number of ways to reduce inequalities and failing, I was gradually forced to conclude that the decisive factors were the people, their natural abilities, education and training. Knowledge and the possession of technology were vital for the creation of wealth. -- Lee Kuan Yew, The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew

Garfield Higgins in an educator and journalist. Comments to higgins160@yahoo.com



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