Elec­tion cir­cus for clowns

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Gor­don Robin­son is an at­tor­ney-at-law. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com.

MY SIN­CERE at­tempt at a deep breath quickly turned into a sigh as I con­tem­plated the next four weeks.

It’s too de­press­ing for words. For the next four weeks (give or take), Ja­maica will be ma­nip­u­lated by greedy politi­cians into par­tic­i­pat­ing in a farce of enor­mous pro­por­tions dis­re­spect­fully named lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions. This farce will cost the na­tion gazil­lions of dol­lars it doesn’t have and which could have pur­chased and in­stalled CCTVs is­land­wide and mon­i­tor­ing cam­eras in­side ev­ery sin­gle bus op­er­at­ing in Ja­maica.

Why do I main­tain the ‘lo­cal govern­ment elec­tion’ will be a farce? Ele­men­tary, my dear Wat­son. There’s ab­so­lutely noth­ing at stake for us. What’s at stake in this mon­u­men­tal trick per­pe­trated upon tax­pay­ers is con­trol of a mas­sive po­lit­i­cal slush fund used to fuel po­lit­i­cal cor­rup­tion in ev­ery nook and cranny of Ja­maica. Don’t take my word for it. Ask Des­mond McKen­zie. He went so far as to threaten to au­dit all par­ish coun­cils.

“RJR NEWS, Fri­day, June 24, 2016, 3:03 p.m.: The Ma­jor Or­gan­ised Crime and An­ti­Cor­rup­tion Agency (MOCA) launched a probe into an al­leged mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar fraud at the Manch­ester Par­ish Coun­cil.

“Days after Lo­cal Govern­ment Min­is­ter Des­mond McKen­zie warned that his min­istry would be au­dit­ing the op­er­a­tions of par­ish coun­cils, MOCA in­ves­ti­ga­tors raided the Manch­ester Par­ish Coun­cil and other prop­er­ties in Manch­ester and Claren­don.

COUN­CIL LOCK DOWN

“The team, as­sisted by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Of­fice of the Con­trac­tor Gen­eral (OCG) and the Fi­nan­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tion Di­vi­sion (FID), locked down the coun­cil and seized doc­u­ments and more than $6 mil­lion in the op­er­a­tion in the two parishes.

“Two per­sons, in­clud­ing the deputy su­per­in­ten­dent in charge of roads and works in Manch­ester, were taken into cus­tody.

“Se­nior Su­per­in­ten­dent Cleon Marsh, head of in­ves­ti­ga­tions at MOCA, told RJR News that sev­eral per­sons con­nected to the coun­cil are un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and other ar­rests are pend­ing.

“He said ar­range­ments are be­ing made to in­ter­view the two de­tainees in the pres­ence of their at­tor­neys.

“Dur­ing the op­er­a­tion, which be­gan at 6 a.m., the cops also Min­is­ter of Lo­cal Govern­ment Des­mond McKen­zie ad­dress­ing coun­cil­lors and care­tak­ers at the Ja­maica Con­fer­ence Cen­tre after the date for the lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions were an­nounced last Thurs­day.

raided the homes of se­nior of­fi­cials of the par­ish coun­cil – one in Claren­don and three in Manch­ester.

The team seized US$35,000 along with J$1.6 mil­lion at one of the prop­er­ties.

The cops also seized elec­tronic de­vices and doc­u­ments re­lat­ing to con­tracts awarded by the par­ish coun­cil.”

DES­MOND MCKEN­ZIE, May 20, 2016:

Speak­ing of cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions at Hanover Par­ish Coun­cil, Min­is­ter McKen­zie said they “se­verely un­der­mine the in­tegrity of the coun­cil and lo­cal govern­ment re­form ef­forts ... . ” Mak­ing the point that the lo­cal govern­ment re­form pro­gramme is un­der­pinned by the prin­ci­ples and tenets of ac­count­abil­ity, trans­parency, “sub­sidiar­ity”, ca­pac­ity build­ing, and in­sti­tu­tional strength­en­ing in a fair and eq­ui­table man­ner, he went on:

“When these very prin­ci­ples are vi­o­lated, it then sends a sig­nal of bla­tant dis­re­gard for the very ci­ti­zens for whom we, the elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the lo­cal level, pledge to serve ... . ”

An­nounc­ing that the per­ma­nent sec­re­tary would lead a high-level team from the min­istry to con­duct an in-depth probe into the ad­min­is­tra­tive and fi­nan­cial op­er­a­tions of the Hanover Par­ish Coun­cil, McKen­zie, never one to shirk from mak­ing bold state­ments, said:.

“The glar­ing un­to­ward vari­a­tions in the busi­ness model, or lack thereof, for how coun­cils con­duct the con­tract award process must be cau­terised and a for­mal method be put in place to ad­dress this and other man­age­ment de­fi­cien­cies ... . ”

SIX MONTHS LATER, what has been done to “cau­terise the un­to­ward vari­a­tions”? What has been done to al­ter the “con­duct of coun­cils of the con­tract award process ... and a for­mal method put in place”? What has been done to pre­vent the fur­ther un­der­min­ing of the in­tegrity of the par­ish coun­cils? NOTH­ING! NADA! ZIP! ZERO!

Re­cently, McKen­zie, in rais­ing con­cerns about the state of par­ish coun­cils’ build­ings and ac­com­mo­da­tions, ac­cused coun­cils of abus­ing their SGR fund­ing (Spe­cial Grant for Re­pairs). Since NOTH­ING has been done to stem any of the al­leged cor­rup­tion, it seems that Govern­ment sim­ply wants to once again use and abuse us, un­der the guise of our “con­sti­tu­tional right to vote”, to wrest con­trol of these cor­rupt cesspools from the al­ready fi­nan­cially em­bar­rassed PNP. That would be a po­lit­i­cal coup of dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect as it would con­sign the PNP to po­lit­i­cal ir­rel­e­vance for a decade.

But, for what are WE vot­ing? Why would WE pros­ti­tute our­selves, de­spite hav­ing been told by Govern­ment that these coun­cils are in­cor­ri­gi­bly cor­rupt, for the ob­vi­ous ob­jec­tive of hand­ing over the ben­e­fits of this cor­rup­tion to our favourite po­lit­i­cal pro­filer?

FULL OF TALK

Be­cause it’s what we do. We’re su­perb as call­ers to callin pro­grammes and panel­lists on panel dis­cus­sions. We can an­a­lyse and dis­cuss any­thing for nine days. When nei­ther the prose­cu­tion nor the po­lice in the X6 trial did ANY­THING for five years to im­prove what ei­ther KNEW was a shaky case and a re­luc­tant eye­wit­ness, and

then, when the eye­wit­ness re­canted (what a shock!), the case was closed with­out pre­sent­ing SIX­TEEN more wit­nesses with per­sua­sive cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence so that the most ob­vi­ous sus­pect walked free with­out hav­ing to an­swer any case at all, what did we do? We ar­gued for nine days on ev­ery call-in pro­gramme and panel dis­cus­sion avail­able as to who was to blame.

Some id­iots even went so far as to blame de­fence coun­sel. Did one sin­gle ‘an­a­lyst’ seek to iden­tify and re­solve the sys­temic prob­lem of an un­der­funded po­lice force and a DPP with too much power con­cen­trated in that of­fice? Nah, too bor­ing. No rat­ings in that.

When a child, one of very many over the years, but this time from JC, is stabbed to death on a bus, we can line up in protest, and lead­ing politi­cians take all the photo ops they need. We can re­turn to the call-in shows and panel dis­cus­sions we LOVE and cry real tears and blame the other pas­sen­gers in the bus.

NO­BODY won­ders how we got to this and how we can stem the tide. Nah, too bor­ing to dis­cuss sys­tems or to in­sist on build­ing a dis­ci­plined so­ci­ety. Let’s ter­rorise in­no­cent pas­sen­gers who may not have even known what was hap­pen­ing or may’ve been afraid to chal­lenge a knife-wield­ing mur­derer. Yep, it’s THEIR FAULT.

BUT NOT ONE OF US is pre­pared to spend ONE MINUTE of our high-fa­lutin’ anal­y­sis or protest to tell the truth, which is that Ja­maica is FUN­DA­MEN­TALLY bro­ken, and if we don’t ad­dress the bro­ken fun­da­men­tals, which can only be ad­dressed in con­sti­tu­tional change, we’re a na­tion doomed to cry ev­ery day over some new mur­der or an­a­lyse some avoid­able pub­lic ser­vice er­ror ad nau­seam. NO CHANGE guar­an­tees more of the same.

Let’s take lo­cal govern­ment, for ex­am­ple. How did we get here? Like 95 per cent of our so­cial and po­lit­i­cal struc­tures, lo­cal govern­ment was copied from Eng­land when we were duped into be­liev­ing we achieved ‘In­de­pen­dence’. Our par­ish coun­cils are trans­par­ent copies from Eng­land’s county coun­cils. But, as I keep try­ing to burn into Ja­maica’s col­lec­tive con­scious­ness:

1. Eng­land has a pop­u­la­tion of 53 mil­lion; Ja­maica – three mil­lion.

2. West­min­ster (Bri­tish Par­lia­ment) is di­vided into 650 con­stituen­cies, hence it’s far more ef­fec­tive as a check and bal­ance on ex­ec­u­tive power than our 63-mem­ber Par­lia­ment could ever be.

3. Eng­land’s small­est county has a pop­u­la­tion of more than 800,000.

WHEN ARE WE GO­ING TO GET THAT WE ARE NOT ENG­LAND?

Cur­rently, each of Ja­maica’s con­stituen­cies con­tains an av­er­age of about 50,000 peo­ple (30,000 vot­ers), which our MPs have proven they can’t han­dle, es­pe­cially as al­most ev­ery govern­ment MP is also a min­is­ter of some sort or the other.

Here’s what we have to do NOW. Abol­ish lo­cal govern­ment. Con­vert the more than 200 lo­cal govern­ment di­vi­sions to con­stituen­cies and cre­ate a brand new Par­lia­ment with over 200 mem­bers. In one act of true cere­bral ‘In­de­pen­dence’, we’ll mo­ti­vate back-benchers to mon­i­tor and reg­u­late Govern­ment; save zil­lions by elim­i­nat­ing the ridicu­lous over­laps and turf wars (is it a ‘main’ road or a ‘parochial’ road?) be­tween cen­tral and lo­cal govern­ment (Des­mond would be look­ing for a new job); force MPs to spend time in man­age­able con­stituen­cies; and “cau­terise” the mas­sive cor­rup­tion now tak­ing place.

Or we can be con­tent with busi­ness as usual. Let’s drink rum, eat curry goat, get a free new T-shirt, and vote for (fill in the blank) on Novem­ber 28. Let me know how that works for you in four years’ time.

Peace and love.

I

RI­CARDO MAKYN/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

RI­CARDO MAKYN/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Prime Min­is­ter and party leader An­drew Hol­ness ad­dresses JLP faith­ful as the party gears up for lo­cal govern­ment polls on Novem­ber 28.

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