Don’t you just love…

December 7, 2008

when people do their jobs? Contractor-General Greg Christie has been at it at again, and our favourite company, Jamaica’s Undisputed Trailblazer of Corruption (JUTC), is again under the microscope. Memba seh ah dis a di same smaddy who has been appointed by Golding, only to be slapped and dissed by said Golding how much times about stepping out of line. Of course, that’s only when he tries to do his job, and his sniffing comes a bit too close to home. But the man does not give up, thank goodness. So who and who a resign now, and who fi go a jail, but dem probably not going to hang dem yah smaddy yah. No, dem too nice fi dat.

But wait likkle nuh? A gem caught my eye in today’s reportage:

“The report pointed to breaches in the procurement guidelines and identified the late chairman, Douglas Chambers, as having ignored the rules while awarding contracts to Simber Productions Limited, a firm in which he held majority shares.”

Ca-ca fa’at!! as my grandmother would say. Ah wha’ dis now?! Dem mean the same venerable Douglas Chambers, fi who everybody was up in arms about when dem kill im di odda day? Da’a deh Douglas Chambers?  Yuh mean seh fi im shit did stink to? What a prekkeh!  Well, look out for the admonishments and the how-dare-you’s (Mike Henry tried that one last week; you see how far he got…) as the walls come tumbling down.  I can’t wait for Christie to close the degrees of separation between some of these MP’s and the dirt they’ve been dealing.  I’m also keeping an eye on the cigarette/contraband issue that Danville Walker just brought up.  Ah deh so di ants’ nest deh.

Scurrilous?

November 13, 2008

I read the article. I wasn’t sure that my initial reaction (Bruce needs to learn to use a thesaurus!) was entirely correct, so I looked up the word:

Scurrilous (Adjective)

1. grossly or obscenely abusive: a scurrilous attack on the mayor.
2. characterized by or using low buffoonery; coarsely jocular or derisive: a scurrilous jest.
3 a: using or given to coarse language b: vulgar and evil
4: containing obscenities, abuse, or slander

Hm.

Then I looked up the word that provoked the response:

Nepotism (Noun)

1. patronage bestowed or favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship, as in business and politics: e.g She was accused of nepotism when she made her nephew an officer of the firm.

2. favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship

3. the showing of favoritism toward relatives and friends, based upon that relationship, rather than on an objective evaluation of ability, meritocracy or suitability. For instance, offering employment to a relative, despite the fact that there are others who are better qualified and willing to perform the job. The word nepotism is from the Latin word ‘nepos’, meaning “nephew” or “grandchild”. (Wikipedia)

I go back and read the article again.

Nope. I don’t see how the trisyllabic word even remotely applies.
Sorry Bruce, the problem is as plain to see as that garishly painted wall. I think that thou dost protest too much. Besides, doesn’t it take nepotist to know another?

Portia-Pot calling Bruce-Kettle Black

Portia-Pot calling Bruce-Kettle Black

If the PNP folks say its there, I can assure you that it’s there.

Details, details

October 30, 2008

What happens when one overlooks the “details” involved in one’s work, like, I don’t know, noticing that the ground below the scheduled construction site is actually hollow and replete with caves, rendering any building constructed there useless and dangerous. You know, small details like that.

Well, first, your identity will be protected – we still don’t know who the surveyor was because the esteemed Observer chose not to report this information. People will excuse rather than condemn your behaviour, and if you work your networks sufficiently, you might actually get to walk away scot-free. Maybe.

A most-embarassed Bruce Golding who was part of the committee overseeing the construction of new school facilities in St. Ann, “admitted that the consultants employed to the project had fallen down.”  Fallen down.  Now that is an interesting choice of words.

Golding continues: “The consultants we employed, I must confess, didn’t do a good job so they did not identify the caves that were there, also the geotech survey only indicated rocks, they did not indicate that we had these caves.”   Didn’t do a good job.  Hmmm. Is that all now?  Why does this stink of nepotism and some backdoor deal gone bad? Ah one o’ im fren dem sheg up di project so?  I’m roundly suspicious.   We await more news on the topic.

Then we find out that “there was no penalty clause in the consultant’s contract for matters of this nature.”  In other words, the assumption is that there is no recourse for when so-called experts fail to do their jobs properly and jeapardize people’s lives with their inept behaviour.

Golding plans to sell the land to someone else; I wonder if they will bother to disclose the caves to potential buyers?  Apparently, when the government was buying the land, the seller did not disclose this information, and the buyers clearly didn’t pay attention to broader geographic/geological knowledge that suggests that the existence of caves is a distinct possibility.   So, someone sold govament useless land.   Why am I not surprised?  Wasn’t there a recent problem with some illegal arms trader selling guns to the ministry of national security just recently?  Hmmm.  What we have here – a bunch of not so smart folks making decisions that end up wasting taxpayers’ money?  Now they plan to pass it on.   But, Ii you can’t put up a school  building on the land, then you damn sure can’t put any other building on it.  Although, one could explore whether there was a way to incorporate the cave structures into whatever physical building was being constructed on the land.  Now there’s an idea!

Meanwhile, whoever did such a shoddy job of surveying and approving the building of the school should lose their license to practice in Jamaica and banned from any professional association.  They should also be sued for the cost of the partial construction, as well as the cost of creating a new project, including the acquisition of new land.  That ought to teach them fi ‘top treat govament money like is freeness.   That’s my pipe dream anyway.

P.S. Just so you don’t think is only we do dem sort a foolishness ya. Check out what happened in Barbados.

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.

Diatribalist brought my attention back to an Observer editorial that I missed last month. Speaking predictably in defense of an unregulated market economy and saluting the greed of our local capitalists, the editorial chides – in a most paternalistic and patronizing fashion – Audley Shaw for calling attention to the participation of private businesses in the kleptocracy that we have become.

Now, if many of us have bothered to think beyond the sound bytes and half-baked analyses that we have been offered about “corruption”, “violence” and “crime”, we should already know that NONE of these systems and practices are possible, nor can they succeed to the extent they have, without the active participation of the private sector. This is a truism everywhere.

In other words, Government’s specialty is losing the documents; the private sector specializes in hiding the money.

But we are so afraid to speak out, so afraid to call names, so afraid to name things as they are, because we know that the REAL power of politicians lies in the relationships they have cultivated with the movers and shakers in private sector. When we don’t ask in whose interests the politicians are working, we are also acquiescing to the power of the forces behind the scene, but in plain sight. It is (heterogeneous) THEY who bring in the guns, who sit and conspire at their poolsides, strip clubs and via I-Phones about who needs to be eliminated, paid off, taken care of, in literal and metaphoric terms.

We KNOW that when persons like JUTC’s Chambers is gunned down in broad daylight, it is far more likely that his death was orchestrated by a businessowner or a board member than a former bus driver. We KNOW this, but can’t say it, won’t say it, and certainly won’t investigate the possibility.

This is where our real problem is. This is what the Police Commissioner knows, the Prime Minister knows, the Minister of Justice knows. That our problem is not government, or only government. Its how the State has become a pawn of the business class. Its the silence that helps such a parasitic relationship to fester and take over. A friend once said to me that we often characterize, mistakenly, fascism as something that WAS of the past. What we can’t see before our faces is a new form of fascism: the rise of the corporate state. There is still much to be said and understood about this feature of our society. At the end of the day, the waste that we imagine and hear quoted in millions of dollars is really treasure for someone. We would rather not ask for whom, even as we watch and exult in the excesses of elite life and the spoils of class warfare.

So, reading between the lines of the editorial, I found some familiar (and highly successful) discursive strategies, designed to distract the public and muddy up the picture so that we, the uneducated consuming classes, won’t know our head from our ass by the time the PSOJ is done with us.

Let me illustrate using the text (in red) of the editorial:

It might have been overenthusiasm or Mr Shaw might have been trying to show Mr Moreno how tough he was on non-tax compliance, but the minister said these words:

“Customs has been a hotbed of corruption and Mr PSOJ president, I am going to be blunt, it is a hotbed of corruption because private sector importers themselves are participating along with customs officers and customs brokers in robbing the treasury of vitally needed money to run the country.”

In other words, Shaw, finding himself before such awesome powerful figures of the PSOJ, nearly pissed in his pants because he was so dazzled by the brightness of the light bouncing off the skins of the local lords and the shiny glassware, he wanted to show that he could talk TOO. He could say something of worth TOO. He was not just a monkey on strings, he could be blunt TOO.

Mr Shaw started out on good grounds. Nearly every Jamaican who is not a tax dodger, agrees with him that too many people are not paying their taxes.

Mr. Shaw really needed to stay on the general path and not get into particulars. Not point fingers but wave the hand. He needed to follow the code that says when “too many people” are not doing something, that means “the masses”, of which we the PSOJ, are not. We are not even people, we are the private sector. No people, just jargon and buildings and transactions and forums and policy.

That is one of the reasons for the heavy burden on those who are forced to pay their taxes through the Pay As You Earn, or PAYE system, where the tax is deducted before the pay packet reaches the hands of the employee.

You see, we need to keep people’s eyes on the problem. The GOVERNMENT. Income tax. The plight of the working person. It is them who are suffering as a result of a GOVERNMENT that love to tax people. Remember, we are not people, we just hire them and speak for them. And then give the employers a hell of a time to figure out how to set up our payroll and allow them to collect these taxes. All this thing is just headache. When you start making “the private sector” sound like part of the people, you also saying that we should be paying that tax too. And we not paying no tax. We helping the government, just remember that!

In any event, a small country like Jamaica cannot sustain such high levels of non-payment of taxes and still expect to meet all the pressing needs of the country, such as good schools, roads, hospitals, delivery of potable water and the like.

Yes, it is about economies of scale, and GDP, and infrastructure, globalization and what and what and what. None of this have anything to do with “the private sector”, you know. This is about GOVERNMENT. It is about a backward people who just don’t want to pay taxes. We “the private sector” don’t drive on government funded roads with our big trucks for our businesses and SUV’s for our leisure, or send our children to schools built with government subsidies or taught by teachers trained by government-funded institutions, or get sick and go to hospitals and get special treatment staffed by government-funded persons, or take hot showers with government-subsidized infrastructure etc. etc. etc.

The minister, quite correctly, quantified it an astounding $59 billion in total tax arrears, without interests and penalties, with the bulk owed being corporate income taxes.

“Sixty-eight per cent of those arrears are held by people.falling within the corporate income tax section,” said Mr Shaw. Overall tax compliance, he said, was not encouraging. GCT at 65 per cent compliance was the best performing tax group. “Every other tax type is below 50 per cent and the worst of all tax types is corporate income tax,” he disclosed.

Yes, tell us the numbers, Audley. Just don’t attach the numbers to the bodies or persons in this room. Try yuh best, please. You treading on dangerous waters now, sah!

Where Mr Shaw loses us is in not taking the care to not leave the impression that every single business person in this country is robbing the treasury.

Oh, Audley, what have you done, what have you done. We give you nice lunch and big yuh up, and now you come tell us that we are the problem. That we “the private sector” should be doing something rather than this smoking mirrors dance of big words, big speeches, and pointing fingers at the government. Look bwoy, we nuh put JLP inna power fi yuh come tell we seh we owe yuh nutt’n. Is you owe we, memba dat! We did not give you food and a podium for you to come and tell us that we are part of the problem. Ungrateful bastard!

Had Mr Shaw consulted with his PR people before making that speech, they would have edited out that section and saved him the embarrassment of himself and his Government.

But hear yah?! Shaw, me neva tell yuh seh fi call Butch Stewart fi get di speech? Is wha’ dis yah foolishness yuh a come wid? How yuh hard a hearing so? Eh! Yuh tink yuh a big shot now? Mr. Finance Minister, yuh tink yuh reach now? Wha’ yuh tink dis is? Bwoy, yuh figget yuhself? Wait till I tell Brucie wha’ yuh come yah an’ gwa’n wid? Yuh mus a figget yusself, ah mus dat.

In this regard, the concern expressed by the PSOJ president, Mr Chris Zacca, and the president of the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Association of Jamaica (CBFFAJ), Mr Christopher Kennedy, is quite understandable.

Unnu ‘ear wha’ di bwoy Audley a gw’an wid? Yuh nuh ear? Bwoy, smaddy affi deal wid dat! Dat cya’an gwa’an. No sah! Kenno, yuh w’an dweet? No, sah, yuh gwa’an deal wid dat. Me g’ahn a Lime Cay an’ Ochi an Cayman an me na’a come back till mont’ en’ when di next shipment suppose fi come. How dat look? Nuh too bad, y’ know. It a’right still…

But that is a problem we face in this country. Instead of facing those who are guilty, there is a tendency to reach for the broad brush and paint everyone in the same worthless colour. No one needs us to tell him or her how desperately demoralising this practice can be.

I see that, centuries later, these people have not learned that THEY are worthless and stupid and different from US, and that WE tell them what they should do, think and say. It is desperately depressing to have to teach this lesson over and over again. When will they ever learn? Don’t they realize that we have better things to do? There is land to conquer with hotels and casinos; there is money to be made from dead bodies lying around. This persistent desire to make US seem no different from THEM is just mind-boggling. I know that WE have changed our names many times over the centuries. But surely THEY know that WE are “the private sector” and that when THEY say things like this that it causes much consternation? Don’t they know that WE will punish THEM for speaking without permission? It seems some things never change.

Moreover, Mr Shaw must understand that he is dealing with a problem that has plagued every administration since tax collection began. To solve that one is going to take only the most creative approach, in order to pull everyone into the tax net.

It seems that my dear Mr. Shaw has not been reading his history books. WE don’t pay taxes, we collect them. At the very least, we will not be disciplined by any government, even one that we purchased, telling us, insulting us, by suggesting that we are part of this “everyone”. WE are the PRIVATE SECTOR! It is “everyone” who needs to be told what to do with their money, and we need to ensure that “everyone” is indeed milked and squeezed dry. No matter how we despise government, this is one thing that government can do very well. This one just needs more practice.

He needs to sit quietly with all the players and work, work and work until a solution is found. Not run off at the mouth. If Mr Shaw already has a PR practitioner, he should know what to do with him.

It seems as if WE “the private sector” need to remind Mr. Shaw that he has a specific job, and none of it includes speaking to us in language or tone that we did not approve beforehand. He is the cowdriver; he is to whip up as many workgroups, committees, taskforces, conferences, proposals, white papers and what have you, and keep himself busy with all the paper and email that we send his way until we have need of him. Please dispatch a courier immediately to apprise him of his role. Yes, our very reliable and dependable press is ready and waiting to do this job. WE the PRIVATE SECTOR have spoken. So let it be.

Can anybody really tell me that they really didn’t know that Mega-Mart and all the other businesses owned by the mega-family empires are not part of one big everlasting hustling of national resources?  Azan a tief light too??  That him get ketch is the news.  What to do with him and all the rest of them is what I am concerned about.

1. The Attorney General must immediately launch a full investigation with the INTENT to prosecute.  Resigning from whatever board he was on sounds lovely, but that’s just to placate us since we are so gullible as to think resigning a post means much when the Azan empire permeates the entire private sector.  And what about all their other stores that were probably tiefing light and who knows what else as well, but on a less grand scale? Me sure sey a long time now dem yah sitten a gwa’an.  Cooperating with the investigation does not restore honor or respect; he doesn’t even think that he did the public a disservice.  This is not strictly a matter between corporate entities.   The very people working and shopping at Mega Mart are not treated as if they are entitled to having electricity.   Trust me, when JPS used to come visit my community, is pure begging and pleading haffi gwa’an fi di likkle $1000 back money.  You know how much suck-suck, kisko, chicken-back, and box drinks melt out fi di likkle money?

2. We citizens should move set up a public utilities watchdog group whose goal it is to identify, root out corporate theft and see that proper restituiton happens.  Dem big construction company and gambling centers surely inna dis ya nastiness too.

3. There really needs to be a lawsuit and other forms of public protest by squatters and all others who have come been harassed and unfairly treated by JPS.   It can be purely symbolic, but it would reflect that people are paying attention.  People working at Mega-Mart are not paid a decent wage – the excuse? Its expensive to run such an enterprise.  Do we even know what the profit margin of a company like Mega Mart is? Nope.  But I can assure you, if Azan et al. can afford to pay back di who’lla di money fi de light whey dem tief, den you know sey is wicked dem wicked long time.