Columns

What will we learn from the Trafigura investigations?

Mark Wignall

Sunday, September 30, 2012    

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EVERY five years in Jamaica we employ the democratic process of pleading with an everdecreasing stock of voters to elect a political party.

Once this process is completed and a prime minister is ratified, business people or those with significant resources who exist under the illusion that following the election, new and exciting horizons are equally opened to all must soon stand in awe at the power of government to decide who steps forward, who is stopped in his tracks and who must be crushed under the heavy foot of our false democracy.

For the poor, the powerless and the voiceless, all that can be hoped for is that their party of choice is elected and a few bones will be thrown their way until the circus comes to town in another five years.

Essentially we use the democratic process to elect a party of dictators. Under this arrangement, humility as a desired trait among our politicians is considered a useless weight around their necks. Whenever suspicions arise that they may have committed misdeeds through surreptitious dealings, quite often it is the whistleblower who is targeted as the sinner while they haughtily engineer a stout defence of their 'honour'.

The year 2006 was a mixed one for Portia Simpson Miller. The good part for her began in February when, in an election among PNP delegates, she triumphed in a field of four candidates for PNP President. As the PNP was in power she became prime minister.

It went downhill after that. The budget presentation indicated that there was incoherence in the PNP cabinet and that a clash of egos was probably a causal factor. The prime minister then announced to a church congregation in Portmore that she was 'the elect of the Almighty’. Well, that has always worked on those who need earthly gods.

She then told the sheepish that they had a duty to support the elect of the Almighty. She conjured up a whip and told them that if they did not support the elect of the Almighty, when the whip fell, it would not fall on her but on them. The sheep continued to follow the shepherd.

In the latter part of the year, Opposition Leader Bruce Golding made a shocking revelation. The PNP had received a multimillion-dollar payment from a Dutch company called Trafigura Beheer. In 2000 the company won a bid to lift Nigerian oil on behalf of the government of Jamaica — 30,000 barrels — under an arrangement sealed in 1978.

In 2006, after Trafigura had extracted its healthy commission, Jamaica was paid US$0.125 per barrel.

From its London offices Trafigura had wired 466,000 Euros to a PNP-connected account in Jamaica. At the going rate the funds amounted to J$38 million but somewhere in the picture all that was tracked amounted to $31 million.

The account which received the $31 million was CCOC Association which turned out to mean Colin Campbell Our Candidate Association. At that time Colin Campbell was Information Minister and PNP General Secretary.

Cheques were withdrawn from the account and lodged in SW Services Limited which was the constituency account of South West St Andrew whose MP was and still is Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

PNP in panic mode

As Golding made the somewhat ambitious call for the PNP government to resign the PNP and key government ministers met behind closed doors to flesh out the matter. The first agreement that was made public was that the funds were a 'gift' to the PNP and, in another breath, a 'donation'. Trafigura insisted it was the result of a 'commercial transaction.'

Colin Campbell was removed as Information minister but remained a government Senator. Where else in the world would such a situation occur?

The obvious question that was asked; Why would a company which was doing business with the government of Jamaica make a 'donation' to the political party that was running the governmental machinery? Cartoon character Homer Simpson would probably answer with, 'Duh.'

The second question — which few asked — is if the funds were indeed earmarked for the PNP, why did it take such a circuitous route to the PNP?

The third question — If the funds were indeed received by the PNP, why did the PNP not provide us with documentary evidence to support its receipt into the coffers of the PNP?

We are told that the PNP had plans to call an election in 2006 (one it would have won) but the Trafigura matter derailed all of its plans. We were also told that the funds were returned to Trafigura even as plans were afoot by the Dutch government to investigate the company for breaking a law — donating money to political parties.

Fourth question — Why did the PNP not provide the nation with documentary evidence to support the announcement that the funds had been returned?

Shroud it, cloud it

Many of the arguments being raised by lawyers on behalf of the PNP who are trying to avoid open questions to the prime minister and other key PNP personnel are complex ones, seemingly designed to fly over the head of the man and woman at street level.

All of this raises additional questions. If no political sins were committed, why has the PNP employed a battery of QCs to avoid PNP personnel being questioned on what amounts to the people's business?

Remember now, Trafigura was making money by doing business with the government of Jamaica. Nothing sinister there. Once a 'gift' or 'donation' comes into focus, it raises the spectre of Trafigura using the profits from its dealings with Jamaica to channel 466,000 Euros into the account of a private entity (connected to the PNP) which just happens to be the party running the government. That is the people's business.

Transparent government is largely mythical. New administrations always promise open government when — in the euphoria of an election win — we will always be suckered into believing any and every high-flowing sound bite emanating from the podium.

The PNP has employed this battery of legal minds to ensure that we will only get transparency in words and never in deed.

Cushy times for those in power

With an IMF agreement pending and a severe public sector wage cut being demanded as one of the main conditions, some people are beginning to share the view that the PNP Administration is existing in a parallel universe called a fool's paradise.

One reader wrote,

“I read your column today and completely agreed with everything you have said. My question to you is this: Are Jamaican people idiots?

“I cannot understand how we as a people are allowing this Government to take high salaries, employ their friends and party loyalists at high salaries in cushy jobs, and then turn around and ask public sector workers to hold strain!! They have increased the wage bill paying all these advisors and special assistants, and, at the same time, saying the Government is broke!

Recently, the KSAC paid for a retreat at a resort in Ocho Rios for its councillors and the markets downtown are filthy, people are exhuming bodies in the May Pen Cemetry to re-use burial lots, sewage is running freely in the streets in sections of downtown Kingston — and the KSAC goes for an expensive retreat.”

A patriotic Jamaican living abroad says that he has made the decision to return to 'Yaad' but he is not unaware of the difficulties and probably risks of such a move.

'I am a Jamaican living in the United States, I have been living here for 14 years (just out of high school). I have made a bold decision to move myself, my wife and my newborn to Jamaica to work in a family business and help better Jamaica's manufacturing industry. I have been reading both the Gleaner and the Observer quite often to get a better grasp of the reality of living in Jamaica. I must admit that every time I read these newspapers I get discouraged from moving back home with all of the crime and violence, corruption... etc. that is an accepted part of life.

Your article, in my opinion, was spot on. Please continue to write such informative pieces. People need to know the truth. Unfortunately, your article might be a bit too advanced for some; as people (some politicians included) do not understand how a global economy works.

I agree that Golding did the economy a lot of good in the face of a global economic downturn. The questions that I ask myself are: "How do you educate the people of Jamaica?", "How do you provide them with the important information that most cannot understand?", "How do you get the average Jamaican to think about the future and not just immediate gratification?"

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