GENERAL Secretary of the Jamaica Labour Party Dr Horace Chang has expressed hope that the name of former member of Parliament and junior transport and works minister, Joseph Hibbert, who in 2009 resigned following allegations that he accepted bribes from British firm Mabey and Johnson for bridge-building contracts, will still be cleared even though he has passed.
"It is extremely unfortunate that someone who has had such a long career as a distinguished and decent civil servant, could have so easily become a victim of political and corporate intrigue which eventually destroyed his political career, and may have hastened his death, without a shred of evidence being produced to support the allegations made against him," Dr Chang said in a statement issued Saturday following news of Hibbert's passing.
The former minister of state in the Ministry of Transport and Works and Jamaica Labour Party Member of Parliament for East Rural St Andrew died Saturday night in the University Hospital of the West Indies. The 65-year-old-old former politician and retired civil servant suffered a massive heart attack at his home in Kingston and was taken to the hospital where he died after all efforts to save his life failed.
The JLP general secretary recalled Hibbert as "a quiet, gentle political giant, a patriotic Jamaican and a man of honour" whose career was unfortunately cut short by circumstances over which he had no control. Dr Chang said the JLP humbly accepted the ordeal as the price Hibbert had paid in service to his party and country, and still hopes that the truth will eventually be told and his name cleared from any accusation of dishonesty which may have bedevilled him up to the time of his death.
Hibbert resigned on Tuesday July 14, 2009 as junior transport and works minister, less than a week after the British firm Mabey and Johnson pleaded guilty to bribing officials in Jamaica and other countries to win bridge-building contracts in the 1990s, while he was chief technical director at the ministry. He said he needed "the time and the freedom" to clear his name.
At the time politician, Ernest Smith, senior counsel representing the embattled former state minister, denied that his client was forced to step aside to prevent any smear on the Government.
Smith told the Jamaica Observer, in an interview at the time, that Hibbert's decision to resign was not a result of pressure from party officials or an admission of guilt.
"My advice to him was that there was absolutely no need for him to step down but he, being a very honest man and who does not want his name to be bandied about, had said 'I will resign until these matters are cleared up, because I know I shall return'," Smith said.
Smith said Mabey and Johnson's pleading guilty of bribery and corruption in no way affected "the innocence of Mr Hibbert".
Said Smith then: "Indeed, on the instructions I have from Mr Hibbert, and on the basis of the documents which the Serious Fraud Office (in the United Kingdom) supplied to us, it is patently clear that officers from Mabey and Johnson have tried to use Mr Hibbert's name as a means of siphoning off funds from the company."
He further discounted what he said was the basis of the suspicions held by British investigators.
"I told them from November last year to do their due diligence; they can't look at an index card that they found at the company with Mr Hibbert's name on it... the accounts are not in Mr Hibbert's name.
"I would be very surprised if Mr Hibbert is charged for any offence whatsoever under the Corruption Prevention Act, or any act at all, and if he is charged I guarantee that as long as I remain his senior counsel the charges will be boxed away in the wink of an eye by me," said Smith.
He said, too, that he believed that the bridge-building company, owned by one of Britain's most moneyed families, and which was under prolonged investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, was "trying to implicate Hibbert because they
want to preserve their contractual relationships with the Government of Jamaica".
Eventually, no evidence was produced linking Hibbert to the allegations and, although he was never charged, he stood down re-election in 2011 choosing, instead, to retire from active politics.
Hibbert died without closure to the allegations made against him, and up to the time of his death insisted on his innocence. A home which he had bought an Tucker Avenue, off Mountain Avenue in East Kingston, was put for auction shortly after his retirement for failure to pay his mortgage. Hibbert explained that he was having difficulties meeting the payments, because he was not receiving his pension payments from Parliament.
Yesterday, Jamaica Labour Party Leader Andrew Holness hailed Hibbert for his contribution to national development and the people of Jamaica.
"Joe loved his country and had a deep commitment to its people. This love and dedication was exemplified by his service to the public through both elected and civil offices for many years," he said. Holness also extended condolence on behalf of the Jamaica Labour Party to Hibbert's family and friends, and pledged the JLP's support.
Hibbert, an engineer, was born at Bito District in Rural St Andrew.