Columns

What else must Paulwell do wrong?

GARFIELD HIGGINS

Sunday, June 15, 2014    

Print this page Email A Friend!


"As long as the world lasts there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever." — Clarence Darrow.

"Let me make it quite clear: I have a minister of energy in place. Unless he does something wrong that would affect and impact the Jamaican people in a serious way and the Government of Jamaica [he will not be fired]," Simpson Miller said, in responding to a question from Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. Jamaica Observer, June 4, 2014.

This contemptible utterance by the prime minister and the silence of academia, large elements of civil society and some sections of the media seem to confirm that far too many Jamaicans are suffering from an appalling willingness to accept low standards and a concomitant sickness of low expectations, especially with our national politics.

This, of course, is further complicated by what I have dubbed the 'Scooby Doo and Shaggy' leadership style of the present prime minister.: Jamaica Observer, April 13, 2014.

Undoubtedly, there is an underbelly -- a 'dungle' element to Jamaican politics which often dictates that the lowest common denominator is elevated to the political pinnacle. A safe conclusion that can be drawn here is that too many of our politicians are corrupt because too many of our citizens feed on corruption and are addicted to it.

Political sediments seem to invariably defy the laws of gravity and decency in this country.

More than the over US$2 trillion in debt, more than the increasing crime and violence, more than wrenching poverty spreading throughout especially rural parts, more than the runaway devaluation of the local dollar which is now worth less than half of a US cent, our collective willingness to hug-up gutter standards, quarter measures, skulduggery, absence of the rule of law, corruption of conscience and consciousness are the greatest harbingers of "persistent poverty", anaemic economic growth and molasses-paced development.

It is within these political realities that politicians like the Honourable Phillip Paulwell achieve meteoric rise, public stardom and adulation. To say that Paulwell has had a highly questionable political career is an understatement.

Paulwell was born on January 14, 1962. He is the member of parliament for the constituency of Kingston East and Port Royal and minister of energy, mining, science and technology. What some local pundits term a super ministry.

His chronological age being over 50 suggests, as country people say, 'hHim a big man'. What then explains his almost puerile knack of doing the same thing over and over, with an apparent expectation that he will achieve different results?

The answer is simple. He gets away every time. He does not have to face the consequences and results of his actions.

A lawyer by training, Paulwell started his mainstream political career in 1995 as senator and minister of state in the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce in the PJ Patterson Administration. Patterson, many may remember, resigned as minister of finance and planning after tremendous societal outrage with what became known as the Shell Waivier Scandal. Many will also remember Patterson's mouthing of Douglas MacArthur's, "I shall return". He did as prime minister of Jamaica in 1992 and then stayed for 14 years -- Jamaica longest serving.

Paulwell was identified from early by PNP 'ginnigogs' and party elders as 'one for the future'. By 1997, the Paulwell star was in full illumination. He was elected as the MP for the old Michael Manley seat of Kingston East and Port Royal [he has not lost the seat since] and was appointed as minister of commerce and technology by Patterson.

In April 2001, Paulwell, then minister of industry, commerce and technology, began to preen his ministerial feathers and instructed the Office of Utilities Regulation [OUR] to stop interfering with the rate charged for fixed to mobile [FTM] calls. He intervened in March 2002 by calling then OUR Director General Winston Hay with the good news that a fourth telecommunications company was interested in the provision of service to Jamaica, but would only do so if the FTM remained unchanged.

Hay, to his credit, refused.

The meddling minister would not be quelled and thus issued a directive which effectively restricted the role of the OUR to set rates and tariffs on interconnections. The OUR made the minister 'climb eleven step' [took the matter to court] and the Supreme Court ruled that the minister had no power to issue the directive he did.

The Court of Appeal later ruled that Paulwell's directive to the OUR fell outside of his ministerial ambit and the OUR did not have to 'pay him bad mind' as we say in some rural parts of Jamaica.

Paulwell was apparently not insulted, injured and certainly not daunted.

Then NetServ, another disaster in judgement, came. According to a story printed in the Jamaica Observer of February 18, 2002 entitled: 'Majority of J'cans did not hear about NetServ Scandal': "NetServ was one of the information technology companies which Paulwell had projected would provide 40,000 jobs over a three-year period and which was able to tap into the multi-million dollar Intech Fund, at low interest, to help in its start-up.

The fund is managed by the National Development Bank of Jamaica (NIBJ), but project proposals and request for loans were evaluated by an inter-agency committee, headed by the top civil servant in Paulwell's ministry and on which the minister sometimes sat himself.

"But it emerged that in the case of NetServ, the NIBJ disbursed the first $95 million of an $180-million loan even before there were due-diligence reports on NetServ and its principal, Trinidad-born businessman, Paul Periera.

Even after reports emerged raising questions about the ethics of Periera and some of his business partners... the NIBJ continued with its disbursements to the company, although there was to have been a tighter process of accountability.

"NetServ collapsed in December and was placed in receivership by the NIBJ, with Periera claiming that bad publicity, violence in Jamaica and the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States had scared off investors."

Over J$200 million was squandered on this project involving a dubious company. Massive pressure from civil society, the private sector and the Opposition JLP called for Paulwell to be fired. Instead, Patterson decided to fan away Paulwell's actions as "youthful exuberance".

In 2006 moves were made in Parliament to censure Paulwell, owing to what became known as the cement fiasco. The Caribbean Cement Company recalled some 500 tonnes of faulty product. Minister Paulwell was accused of negligence and gross dereliction of duty. The Opposition argued that Paulwell, despite recommendations from the Jamaica Bureau of Standards, failed to exercise his ministerial authority to declare that the production of cement needed to conform to the Bureau's certification programme.

The Opposition also accused him of providing false information to Parliament. A US cable leak noted that the fiasco nearly crippled the local construction industry and caused severe shortages. Some experts in the construction industry estimated at the time that the Jamaican economy lost over J$100 million per day.

In 2007, Paulwell was again embroiled in controversy after he said that the sale of a fourth mobile licence would go to a company called Solutrea Jamaica Limited. This company was to pay US$7.5 million for the licence. When questions were asked about the entire process, it emerged that Paulwell had issued the licence without all the required due diligence and notifications to the necessary public agencies who needed to agree to the sale.

Then there was the Cuban light bulb scandal. The Jamaican Government amassed a US$3.9-million bill for the distribution of four million energy-saving fluorescent bulbs donated by the Cuban Government to the people of Jamaica. Investigations led to the matter being turned over to the DPP and the fraud squad. Kern Spencer, then minister of state in the Ministry of Energy, Industry and Commerce, and his personal assistant Coleen Wright were arrested on numerous charges. They were both freed by the court earlier this year.

Paulwell, who was then minister of energy, industry and commerce, was absolved of 'any wrongdoing' by the PNP-controlled Parliament. In the Westminster system the minister takes responsibility and resigns.

Now in 2014, Paulwell has pulled off his biggest ruination. He just does not get it. His latest error in judgement could very well compromise the very future of the Jamaican economy. For years successive governments have been trying to arrive at a solution to the high cost of local electricity. A 381 megawatt power plant is said to the answer.

This project has started and stopped more times than efforts to revitalise the defunct Jamaican Railway Service. Just when it seemed that Jamaicans were finally going to get some needed good news, Paulwell had to spoil the show.

Paulwell, despite local and international warnings regarding Energy World International (EWI), went ahead and unilaterally changed the terms and conditions of the licence that was given to him by the OUR and issued an amended licence to EWI.

The editorial in the Jamaica Observer of Thursday, May 1, 2014, entitled; 'Minister Paulwell just doesn't get it' allows one to draw the conclusion that Paulwell was not only reckless but he was dangerously meddlesome.

"Readers will recall that Contractor General Dirk Harrison, in a report to Parliament last September, said that EWI was being improperly facilitated by Minister Paulwell in the bidding process.

"The contractor general described the minister's intervention and acceptance of the bid from EWI as unfair and said it compromised the integrity of the process, given that EWI entered the process after bids had been closed, and its application went to Mr Paulwell's ministry on its way to the OUR.

"Based upon the documentary evidence which was reviewed, it is clear that the 'goal post' kept moving to facilitate EWI's proposal and that the process in its current form could not stand up to review," Mr Harrison wrote in his report.

"Readers should recall, as well that Mr Paulwell responded to the contractor general's findings by stating that: "We cannot have the OCG derailing this matter again. It has to go forward."

"The point, Minister Paulwell, is that the process became flawed when you intervened. You should therefore not be surprised by the IDB's response; neither should you try to pass the blame off to the OCG and, worse, the country."

Like Yogi Berra said, "It's like déjà vu all over again."

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller needs to remember that all politicians, irrespective of the political jurisdiction, have a shelf life. Paulwell's has expired.

If Phillip Paulwell is a political Manx cat we shall see.

Full marks to the Government

The Government's decision not to mine bauxite in the Cockpit Country is welcome news.

The Cockpit Country is an area of outstanding ecological and cultural significance located in the north west of Jamaica. It is an island-within-an-island and contains specially adapted plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.

Moreover, the biodiversity of the Cockpit Country is of global significance. It is the largest remaining intact primary wet limestone forest in Jamaica and is the home to what is likely to be the only viable population of the globally endangered Giant Swallowtail Butterfly.

Many of Jamaica's threatened birds are found there, including the endangered Jamaican Blackbird, and 95 per cent of our endemic Black-billed Parrot population. The Cockpit Country also replenishes the aquifers of five major rivers: Black River, Great River, Martha Brae, Montego River, and Hector's River. These rivers supply water to St Elizabeth, Trelawny and St James.

Jamaica needs to 'Tek sleep and mark death'

I have never been a supporter of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), and the Shanique Myrie case has strengthened my resolve. The Barbados Government, not exactly cash-strapped, has yet to honour a judgement by the CCJ from last October, to pay Myrie US$38,620 in pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages, for the finger-rape and related violations of her human rights.

Maybe the Barbadian prime minister views the ruling of the CCJ in a similar fashion that he views the downgrade by Moody's of that island's credit rating -- "Garbage," says Freundel Stuart.

Three months ago, Jamaica's Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister AJ Nicholson told us that Barbados was committed to complying with the ruling of the CCJ. His words now ring hollow. Jamaica needs to walk wide of the CCJ and Caricom.

"Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realise that it bears a very close resemblance to the first." -- Ronald Reagan

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

ADVERTISEMENT

POST A COMMENT

HOUSE RULES

 

1. We welcome reader comments on the top stories of the day. Some comments may be republished on the website or in the newspaper – email addresses will not be published.

2. Please understand that comments are moderated and it is not always possible to publish all that have been submitted. We will, however, try to publish comments that are representative of all received.

3. We ask that comments are civil and free of libellous or hateful material. Also please stick to the topic under discussion.

4. Please do not write in block capitals since this makes your comment hard to read.

5. Please don't use the comments to advertise. However, our advertising department can be more than accommodating if emailed: advertising@jamaicaobserver.com.

6. If readers wish to report offensive comments, suggest a correction or share a story then please email: community@jamaicaobserver.com.

7. Lastly, read our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy



comments powered by Disqus
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Poll

Have you seen an improvement in the Government’s handling of the chik-V outbreak?
Yes
No


View Results »


ADVERTISEMENT

Today's Cartoon

Click image to view full size editorial cartoon
ADVERTISEMENT