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Be wary of the wolves crying corruption

Sunday, July 22, 2018

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The People's National Party (PNP) has, since the Independence, when in Opposition, used the allegation of corruption against the Government and reaped rich political rewards for this deceptive action. It is time to carefully analyse this practice, expose, and rebuke it.

To my knowledge, the first use of this strategy was during the period leading up to the 1972 General Election. The Government between 1967 to 1972, which was led by Hugh Lawson Shearer as prime minister and Edward Seaga as minister of finance and planning, has been recognised as the best period of governance since universal suffrage. One of the remarkable accomplishments of that Government was the building out of the school stock in the country.

The then Government embarked on two school-building programmes — one was the primary school building programme and the other was the junior secondary school building programme. On September 30, 1966 a loan agreement was signed between the Government and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (forerunner to the World Bank) for US$9.5 million. The purpose of this loan was the building of junior secondary schools, and post-secondary institutions for teacher training, technical and agricultural education. The funds were used to construct and provide equipment for:

1. 50 new junior secondary schools

2. the expansion of four teacher-training colleges

3. the expansion of the College of the Arts, Science and Technology

4. the expansion of the Jamaica School of Agriculture

5. the construction of staff houses for junior secondary schools in rural areas

The primary school building was an ongoing programme financed from the consolidated fund by way of annual budgetary allocations. Sometime after 1968 it was noticed that there were substantial and significant cost overruns on these school-building programmes. The PNP, then led by Michael Manley, immediately assumed corruption and they concocted all kinds of stories. One of the popular accusations was that two of the schools were missing. Using the refrain of “two missing schools” the PNP succeeded in distracting Jamaicans from the spectacular achievements of what later turned out to be the best government Jamaica has had so far. The PNP so vilified the programme that the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), while seeking re-election, could not even mention their remarkable accomplishment.

The then Government built 185 schools, 59 secondary schools (overall) and 126 primary schools. This was done through Jamaica funding efforts and the loan of US$9.5 million. Looking at the quality and the quantity of schools that were built, any Jamaican who believes the country did not receive value for money needs to relocate to Utopia — because their expectation will not be met in this world.

To give credence to the hysteria that was created with the claim of two missing schools, Michael Manley, on assuming office, established the DaCosta Commission, which was chaired by Harvey DaCosta. The commission commenced sitting on June 14, 1972. They concluded on July 20, 1973 and submitted their report on August 31, 1973. It found, among other things, that the main causes for cost overruns on the various projects were:

1. devaluation of the Jamaican dollar (stemming from the conversion from pound, shilling and pence to dollars and cents);

2. variations in the scope and design of some projects;

3. the lack of certain technical skills;

4. the lack of know-how and best practice

The little corruption that was uncovered was tantamount to a waitress, instead of waiting for a tip, asking for it. It was revealed that one particular government official responsible for engaging subcontractors was asking for gifts from some of these contractors. These gifts did not prevent the contractors from delivering the work to the specifications stipulated in the contracts.

The “missing schools” deception worked and, instead of a grateful nation rewarding a hard-working JLP Government that had the country on a fast track to development, the Michael Manley-led PNP was elected. We are all very familiar with the real corruption which unfolded in subsequent years.

The PNP's deceptive strategy was again on display in 2011. After 18 1/2 years of PNP malgovernance the roads through the length and breadth of Jamaica were like riverbeds. The roads built then were mainly toll roads that foreign investors built and on which Jamaicans were asked to pay to drive. On assuming office, the JLP Government, in 2009, put the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme (JDIP) in place. This was a US$400-million programme which included US$60 million from the government Road Maintenance Fund and a US$340-million loan from China's EXIM Bank. The terms of the loan were generous. The US$340 million was at three per cent for 15 years with a 60-month grace period.

The JLP Government tried its best to reach out to and include the Opposition PNP in the roll-out of the JDIP projects. A few members of the then Opposition grudgingly attended the first launch, but they refused to attend any other parish launches. They instead tried to tie up the programme in controversy. The selection of roads became an issue. The selection of contractors became an issue. The programme, nevertheless, went on apace and the largest road improvement project in Jamaica's history went about rehabilitating scores of roads and bridges across Jamaica.

As the 2011 election approached the PNP felt the need to throw up a smokescreen so that Jamaicans could not see the benefits of the programme aimed at enhancing “the quality of life of the citizens and to stimulate economic growth”.

The slightest opportunity was seized upon to categorise an activity as being corrupt. The amount spent for the Christiana bypass project was one such victim. They did not care if proper controls were in place — as they were. They did not care if the people got value for money — as they did. They just wanted something to label as corrupt.

The minister of transportation and works felt it necessary to do institutional strengthening. It was necessary to expand and equip offices in order to better manage a $35-billion project and provisions for this were made in the funding agreement. Nevertheless, when it was disclosed that $100 million was spent for this purpose, all hell broke loose. No question was asked about the size of the office. No question was asked about the type and cost of the office furnishings acquired. The critics were not concerned whether the money was properly spent. It became the perfect smoke bomb to hide the remarkable work that the Government had done. The political hounds wanted blood and, with an election pending, then Prime Minister Andrew Holness had no option but to ask for the resignation of the hard-working Minister Mike Henry, whose creativity made JDIP possible.

Going into the election a Government that implemented a US$400-million project could not mention it in the campaign. The auditor general was rushed in with all the drama and fanfare of police chasing bank robbers. The findings were anticlimactic; nothing untoward was found. But the damage had been done.

The Jamaican people need to be mindful of this sleight of hand strategy of the PNP. And they should reflect on these things as the braying about corruption at Petrojam intensifies.

Dorlan H Francis is a personal financial adviser and author. Among his books is The Economic and Financial Crisis of 2007 - What Caused it : How to Avoid a Repeat. Send comments to the Observer or dhfken@hotmail.com.

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