How one hand washes the other
October 30, 2008
I had a bit of downtime today, so I decided to write the following letter to the Gleaner. The letter is in response to the claims of innocence by Rae Barrett, regarding the JUTC’s board which authorized the use of NHF monies to provide private security for him, using the company for which he is chairman, Marskman. Nice, neat, convenient arrangement isn’t it? Except, as Rudy Spencer points out, it has turned out to be a rather messy affair. Really now? Who’d a thunk it? In Jamaica of all places? Perish the thought!
But wait nuh! ‘ear di one Rae Barrett nuh inna one long piece o’ memo:
“The company used to provide the security was Marksman Ltd where I have been chairman for over 20 years. Security was provided for my person and home. Note, I had nothing to do with the appointment of this company.”
Hmmm. He seems like a bright man, but I guess he really doesn’t understand what “conflict of interest” means. Maybe I should explain it to hm?
No Rae, you did not choose the company that would provide protection for you. Nor did you sign the check paying for the services. But you had something to do with accepting the services that were being negotiated with you in mind, and on your behalf. You chose to accept and to use the services of Guardsman. Nobody held a gun to your head, or inferred that this was a condition of your employment. YOU alone also chose not to make your 20-year relationship with Guardsman part of the equation and a deal-breaker. Yes, the board members inappropriately put the issue on the table, but you lapped it up and kept right on stepping. You didn’t stop to ask ‘ow it go look? You just relied on the notion that since the board approved, then nobody could say it was not ok. At least you couldn’t be accused of using the monies to provide your own security without anybody’s permission. That would clearly be tiefness bizness. But what you did was also another kind of tiefness. The vagueness of the letter from the board also suggests that they don’t know how to say that you are a crook without implicating themselves. Yes, you’re going down, but you could choose to take them with you. What a prekkeh!
Barrett goes on in the memo to detail how, as the take-charge kinda guy he is, he was the one who terminated the security services this month. I guess he finally figured out that something was not quite right with the arrangement? Why? Because it was leaked to the media. How long did it take him? Over two months? I guess we should be glad that it wasn’t five years before we even found out. Even so, nice job, Tyrone Reid!
Clearly the board was completely complicit in this arrangement – they probably thought they were doing Barrett a favour. However, Barrett also had a responsibility to act in an ethical and professional fashion. Thankfully, at least one person in this hoo-ha has seen that they did something wrong, at least in our eyes; Ryland Campbell, the chair of the board resigned. I bet the rest of them are claiming innocence too; that’s so childish. Yep, I can hear the chorus already. Anno mi! Anno mi! Mi neva know seh anno so mi fi dweet! If nobaddy nuh tell me seh anno so i’ fi go, den a ‘ow me whe’ fi know? Makes you wonder what other kinds of decisions like these they have made in the past. Given all the other problems with JUTC, I think someone should study their minutes carefully. Anyway, here goes:
To the editor:
Regarding the latest practices of malfeasance at the JUTC: it seems prudent to suggest that the decision to fire Rae Barrett as CEO of the National Health Fund was a reactive one, aimed at demonstrating responsiveness to the problem, rather than to show that there is any serious awareness of and concern about corruption practices on the part of the board of directors. Nonetheless, it was the correct decision, in my view.
In fact, Rae Barrett should be removed as CEO because he was aware of the conflict of interest between his role at Marksman and receiving services from Marksman, but chose not to make that conflict a part of the board’s decisionmaking. Monies were being removed from the fund he was supervising to be paid for private security using a firm for which he is chairman, and thus funnelled back into his pockets. While Barrett is claiming ignorance, I believe that the public sees through such tactics quite easily. The board’s decision did not bond him to accept the services of Marksman; he chose to do so, and thus acted in a self-serving way, at the public’s expense.
Barrett should also be removed from his position at JUTC because he used his influence and position in one area – as deputy Chairman – to usurp monies and public trust in another area – NHF funds – over which he also had jurisdiction. In other words, he figured out a way to have his left hand communicate with his right hand, and is now blaming his head – the board – for making the decision, and thus refusing to take responsibility for the actions of his hands.
The Board of Directors of the JUTC should also be fired for authorizing such a decision to remove monies from a protected fund and to use it to pay for Barrett’s personal security using his own company. They knew that they should not touch that money, and yet they chose to do so, not believing that the public would find out, or that we would have the intelligence to discern that their practices were unethical. No matter how much they might want to deny that they knew that Barrett was a chairman of Marksman, there is no way they could not have known this information. The circle of corporate elites is quite small in Jamaica.
The issues raised in this particular situation should be instructive to all of us. Much of the corruption and the usurping of public resources for nefarious purposes operates through the decisionmaking processes of boards of directors of private and public corporations. Many of the directors on the boards are members of interlocking networks. That is, a single individual often sits on multiple boards, often in both private and public entities, and has overlapping personal and professional relationships that are of consequence to how and why they make decisions. Sometimes those personal networks and affiliations are the reason they became board members and are seen as useful to the institution.
However, because there is no shared understanding or agreement about what accountability and ethical conduct looks like in Jamaica, the personal networks of individual directors are often conduits for activities that are not necessarily in the interest of the institution. Likewise, the silence and complicity of other board members creates a kind of conspiratorial environment that promotes the very kind of unethical decisions and practices that we see in the case of the JUTC. For those who are so inclined, they know and believe that they can get away with these kinds of behaviours because their fellow board members may have done similar things, or are waiting their turn to do the same.
The language of “good governance”, “accountability” and “transparency” are often thrown around as if it is clear what we are talking about, and that there is broad commitment to the principles they are based on. But everyday we see examples of how such jargon is precisely that, and hardly touches the way things actually work in Jamaica. Organizations don’t make decisions; people do. This JUTC case, like the case of Mark Wehby and GraceKennedy last year, reminds us that there ought to be serious scrutiny of the boards of directors, and how the constitution of these boards affect public life. It’s well past time that we removed the veil around boards and recognized them as critical centers of powerbroking in this society.