Barnett controversy underlines the dismantling of public trust
The recommendations made by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) to remedy what it termed the “deficiencies” observed in the matter concerning the housing development owned by National Water Commission (NWC) President Mr Mark Barnett and his wife should not be ignored by the authorities.
In its ruling on the controversial matter last week the ODPP recommended:
a) An amendment to section 37 of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act which would lengthen the time within which prosecution should take place;
b) That there should be a review by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) of its administrative processes as to when and how the decision is taken to initiate prosecution in a timely manner under the NRCA Act, once there has been a breach of that legislation;
c) That regulations be implemented under the Building Act to implement a precise documentary framework which will assist in the operations of the municipal authority;
d) That staff and officers be trained in the Building Act and other legislation relevant to local government. This may include training concerning the ethical parameters within which the execution of their remit under the various statutes should be conducted; and
e) That an administrative review be done by the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) to enhance and strengthen accountability procedures, making them more robust. This should include considerations regarding the exercise of discretion in treating with an observed breach and dealing with a breach by way of the fixed penalty regime or whether it would be in the public’s interest that the issue be addressed through the courts.
If nothing else, this matter concerning the Barnetts’ residential development has brought to the fore irregularities in the approval process that have been a feature of the construction industry for too long.
Unfortunately, there is a culture of silence and, in many cases, complicity in the construction sector that has helped to feed this practice and enriched some people, including agents of the State who conveniently abdicate their responsibility to the public.
The ODPP, in its ruling on the matter, told us that although the allegations support the laying of criminal charges against Mr Barnett and his wife for breaching the NRCA Act, “[T]he initiation of the prosecution is time-sensitive, and it having not been initiated within 12 months of the breach being identified, the criminal action is now statute-barred. Therefore, there can be no prosecution.”
So basically what we have here is either ignorance of the law or a considered decision to ignore it. Neither scenario bodes well for public trust. In fact, it creates room for the cynicism that has been the bane of our political system for decades.
While we accept the ODPP’s recommendations, we must state we have very little confidence in the KSAMC conducting any administrative review of its operations because it has not distinguished itself as a credible steward of the public’s business. A cursory look at the state of downtown Kingston alone, particularly the market district, supports that point.
We need to get to the point where, as the ODPP correctly stated, public servants accept that in the performance of their functions, they ought to be beyond reproach.