Are All Politicians Scamps Until Proven Otherwise?
- 1 A person who is professionally involved in politics, especially as a holder of an elected office:
‘a veteran communist politician’
‘a local politician’
- 1.1 US A person who acts in a manipulative and devious way, typically to gain advancement within an organization.
- 1 A person, especially a child, who is mischievous in a likeable or amusing way:
‘some little scamp stuffed tissue paper in between the hammer and the bell’
- 2 West Indian A wicked or worthless person; a rogue:
‘that man was a scamp, a damn thief’
Mid 18th century (denoting a highwayman): from obsolete scamp ‘rob on the highway’, probably from Middle Dutch schampen slip away, from Old French eschamper. Early usage (still reflected in West Indian English) was derogatory.
Two revelations over the past week have given me reason to pause and to question the integrity of our politicians and diplomats in the region. Although their behaviour are not unique to the present administrations in both cases, I am left wondering how can we be confident of the trustworthiness of our politicians who have been entrusted with power over and above that of an “ordinary citizen” to act in the best interests of the people they were elected or appointed to serve, and not that of their own self-interest, or that of their family, party or their financiers?
I broached this topic in 2013 in a very short blog article entitled: Is our political system corrupt, and if so, how can we fix it? Here are the two formulae that were used in highlighting the genesis of corruption and how trustworthiness in our politicians can be regained.
The first revelation has to do with an alleged bribery scandal of an Antiguan diplomat.
Reproduced from: Antigua Diplomat Finds Himself In Midst of International Bribery Scandal:
“ST JOHN’S, Antigua, Thursday December 29, 2016 – Declaring himself innocent of wrongdoing, embattled Antigua and Barbuda ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Casroy James has vowed to return money paid to him by a Brazilian company involved in an international bribery scandal.
Antigua and Barbuda was among countries named in court documents filed by the United States Government yesterday, which alleged that Odebretch, a global construction conglomerate, and other co-conspirators paid nearly US$8 million in bribes to government officials in about a dozen countries.
The documents state that “in or about mid-2015, Odebrecht Employee 4 attended a meeting in Miami, Florida, with a consular official from Antigua and an intermediary to a high-level government official in Antigua in order to conceal Odebrecht’s corrupt activities”.
“Odebrecht Employee 4 requested that the high-level official refrain from providing to international authorities various banking documents that would reveal illicit payments made by the Division of Structured Operations on behalf of Odebrecht, and agreed to pay US$4 million to the high-level official to refrain from sending the documents,” they added.
Prime Minister Gaston Browne took strong action yesterday, firing Antigua & Barbuda’s Honorary Consul to Brazil, Luis Franca, while demanding a full explanation from James, warning that he would be fired if he failed to give a “satisfactory explanation if any money has been paid to him”
In a statement issued yesterday, James admitted he attended the meeting and received an undisclosed sum of money, but was adamant that the funds were payment for his work as an independent consultant when he working on behalf of Global Residency and Advisory Services Limited.
According to the Antigua Observer, James said Meinl Bank, which Odebrecht acquired in 2010, made the payment.
“I attended the Miami meeting as the principal of Global Residency and Advisory Services Ltd and not as an agent of the Antigua and Barbuda Government or as an agent for any Antiguan government official. I attended the Miami meeting in a personal and professional capacity,” the ambassador explained in his statement.
He strongly denied knowing that his client was involved in any illegal activity, or that he had reason to believe that Meinl Bank was in any way affiliated to Odebrecht.
According to the United States Department of Justice, Odebrecht pleaded guilty to one count of criminal information this week and agreed to pay a combined total penalty of at least US$3.5 billion to resolve charges with the authorities.”
Based on my exposures and readings from a wide diversity of sources, I have come to accept that in today’s world, bribery is the rule, and not the exception; and being caught is the exception and not the rule, as it is left up to the discretion of the powers-that-be higher up in the food-money chain, whether a blind eye will be turned, or a person or company is investigated and prosecuted if the those lower down in the food chain “don’t play ball”. In other words, economic hitmen use bribery as a carrot and stick at the same time, to entice via bribery and to enforce with blackmail of the bribery if their diktats are not followed-through.
The second revelation has to do with a local minister of government in which it was alleged that he registered a company in his name. There have been allegation by the opposition of impropriety with conflict of interests.
“BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS – More evidence of corruption, graft, nepotism and conflict of interest surfaced Thursday following circulation of a document indicating that the St. Kitts and Nevis Minister of Public Infrastructure, Posts, Urban Development and Transport, Hon. Ian “Patches” Liburd, has formed a private company to import cement and building materials for sale to government-financed construction projects.
According to a document filed with the Financial Services Regulatory Commission, Prime Building Depot Inc., was registered on August 31st2016 “to engage in the business of shipping and distribution of building materials.”
The Statutory Statement in compliance under Section 8 of The Companies Act CAP 21.03 lists Mr. Ian McDonald Liburd as the sole Director of Prime Building Depot Inc.
Mr. Liburd’s date of birth is documented as January 24th 1952. He is listed as a Business Process Management and Consultant, a citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis and North Pelican Drive, Bird Rock, St. Kitts, as his address.
Veteran journalist and broadcaster Canady Browne said Thursday the move is perceived to be unprecedented corruption of the highest level from a member of the Team Unity Government (TUG) of Prime Minister Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris, which promised to passing Freedom of Information and Integrity in Public Life legislation.
“It is believed that this company of which the Infrastructure minister is the sole director will be the main supplier of concrete cement to the National Housing Corporation (NHC) when it commences construction of hundreds of low and middle income homes next year,” said Browne.
“Millions of bags of the commodity will be required for the government- financed housing development around St. Kitts and Nevis. TDC and S L Horsford’s groups are the current suppliers of cement in the federation,” said Browne, who pointed out that “observers have said that both companies helped finance the election campaign of the current government and can’t be happy with this development.”
“The majority of its directors are known supporters of the People’s Action Movement, the senior partner in the triad TUG coalition.
Since taking office several members of the government have been engaged in what can only be described as get rich quick schemes. Countless businesses have been established by the Harris family. The law firm of the Attorney General was assigned government cases. Lucrative government contracts have been given to family members and close friends of government ministers. The wooden structure from the BHS was moved at a whopping $250,000.00 by the brother of the Prime Minister’s secretary,” said Browne.
Prime Minister Harris has admitted to spending some EC$1 million to beefing security at his private property in Tabernacle.
Many hard core supporters of the PLP/CCM/PAM coalition in recent months have been publicly expressing their displeasure with the high level of corruption.
“Voters have come to the realization that they were deceived and confidence in the Timothy Harris-led TUG is at an all time low,” said Browne.
Team Unity supporter and PAM activist, Chris Roberts recently asked this question: “Which minister of government formed a company to bring in cement for the new housing development in the upcoming year to cut out TDC and Horsford?”
Roberts posting was prompted by word on the street that a cement company and a construction company were recently formed by ministers of the Team Unity government and members of their families.
The avalanche of new businesses said to be financed by funds from the Development Bank of St. Kitts and Nevis, headed by a brother of Prime Minister Harris, has also prompted Douglas Wattley, the chairman of PM Harris’ Peoples Labour Party (PLP) to referred to the 22-month old Team Unity Government as Group Unity, a stark reference to a conglomerate owning several subsidiaries.
“So when will Group Unity call out its leader regarding his corrupt acts? If it does not, then let us do so. I want to admonish our people to be vigilant – pay attention and leak any and all information about corruption and the appearance of corruption in Government,” said Wattley specifically referring to alleged activities involving “bulldozers, car rentals, construction companies, sidebar deals with companies out of Barbados, inappropriate promotion of in-laws, (and) allegations about the misappropriation of campaign funds.”
Wattley, who for the past several months has been publicly expressing his disagreements with Prime Minister Harris on governance, transparency and accountability issues in the absence of legislation governing Integrity in Public Life and a Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in the National Assembly, called on the people to “implement our own “Freedom of Information Act.”
“I think the time is ripe for an internal move to replace the Prime Minister. If not, let us try a Motion of No Confidence,’ Wattley also said in a recent FaceBook posting.
A WINNFM news report in August said many PLP supporters have lost confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Harris and there is “a gigantic rift between the leader and the deputy political leader, Sam Condor.
WINNFM reported also that those within the PLP critical of Prime Minister Harris, cite what they describe as certain moral and ethical transgressions relative to the conversion of campaign financing that they want addressed.
Another key PLP and Team Unity figure, Clecton Phillip, who resigned after one year as Press Secretary to Prime Minister Harris, noted several months ago that “Prime Minister/Minister of National Security/Minister of Finance Dr. T S Harris, who is yet to inform the nation of the name(s) of the owner(s) of T&S Rentals – a vehicle rental company whose cars are seen regularly (in Basseterre) being driven and utilised by members of the Police force and the Defence Force, has not fulfilled its promise with regard good governance.”
Mr. Phillip has since left St. Kitts and resides in Canada..
Prime Minister Harris is also yet to resolve differences within his People’s Labour Party over alleged lack of accounting of millions of dollars given to the party for campaigning purposes last election.
Prime Minister Timothy Harris has to date not made any definitive public statement on the alleged differences some say are tearing the party apart from within.
In the face of all this mounting evidence of corruption, conflict of interest and nepotism over the past months, the non-governmental organisations including the St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association, the St. Kitts and Nevis Chamber of Industry and Commerce, the St. Kitts Christian Council, the St. Kitts Evangelical Association, the Nevis Christian council, the Nevis Evangelical Assertion, the St. Kitts Teachers Union, the Small Business Forum and the St. Kitts and Hotel Association have remained silent.”
Given the political realities in St Kitts-Nevis, I am cognizant of how morsels of information can be spun and morphed into mountains of disinformation, both by the opposition and those with competing vested interests, and how parties alleged to be guilty of wrong doing have been taught to abide by the Brass Rule of “Admitting nothing, denying everything, and making counter-accusations.” So I was waiting for an official response, as we are guided by the Golden Rule of Civility, that “a person is innocent until proven otherwise.”
But lo and behold, a response was presented yesterday via a local online media.
“BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – A controversy involving the Minister with Responsibility for Public Infrastructure, Posts, Urban Development and Transport, the Hon. Ian ‘Patches’ Liburd, has rolled over into the new year concerning allegations of a private company he had purportedly registered in August 2016.
In the latter part of December, word broke in the public domain that the Minister and Parliamentary Representative for St. Christopher One had allegedly registered a business on August 31, 2016 called Prime Building Depot Inc.
It is being bandied that Minister Liburd is the Director of the entity, which is purportedly registered “to engage in the business of shipping and distribution of building materials”.
It is further alleged that among the building materials would be cement, which means that the entity would be competing with other local establishments to win lucrative Government contracts.
A “blatant conflict of interest” was the term used by one caller to SKNVibes, since the Minister holds the portfolio under which such contracts are awarded.
Those allegations did not sit well with some members of the public and the St. Kitts-Nevis Labour Party and many of them had taken to the various social media platforms to voice their opinions on the matter.
Minister Liburd however rubbished the allegations and is adamant that they are being peddled by those who were ousted from government almost two years ago.
He pointed that as a citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis, there is an “inherent right” bestowed upon him to register company.
“I hope that you haven’t in the media come like those people who believe in their own propaganda. What is a cement company? Whether I establish one is so far from the truth,” Liburd told reporters at the recent commissioning of a gift shop at Christophe Harbour Marina location.
He said that the company in question is not one that would be importing or distributing cement, since there are a number of businesses in the Federation currently providing the said service, but rather, his organization is one that would be providing consultancy service.
The Minister indicated that he has some 20-years experience in the area of Business Management and Consultancy and that he has now seen it fitting to venture into same.
“Yes, I can say to you that I have registered a company. It is a Business Process Management Consultancy company and I have a right to. It is registered under the Financial Services Unit. The next step has not been taken and I have a right if I feel to take the next step, which is to apply for a business licence,” Minister Liburd said when
Taking a swipe at the Opposition, he stressed that those on the other side of the political devide “have no moral authority to peddle” such allegations.
He sent out a challenge to the Opposition’s MPs to present facts on the purported corruption in the creation of the new business establishment.
“Let them present to you the evidence of what I have done. They talking about corruption! Corruption as they are talking about…as I know it is the use of your public office for private gain. And if those on the other side, including the rejected leader, want to speak about corruption, let us have a discussion about it.”
When asked if it would not constitute a conflict of interest should he, as a Minister of Government, take the next step by applying for a business licence and gain from that, Liburd responded in the negative.
“If there is nothing that precludes me as a citizen from engaging in business, any business, as long as I do not use my office to bolster that business, then I have no problem.”
Minister Liburd categorically stated that “there is no conflict, there is no business licence procured, so to say that you are entering the cement business is rubbish”.
It is this clarion call by the Minister to have “a discussion about corruption” that motivated me to write this blog article. As many of you would already know, over the past three years, I have made it my business to educate myself on corruption and I have voiced my opinion during the past administration’s tenure and the present of why anti-corruption laws are absolutely necessary to protect our politicians and diplomats from nefarious actors within and without our Federation from taking advantage of our people and the public purse. One cannot use the alleged corruption of the past to justify the alleged corruption of the present. One may be right in saying that the opposition does not have the moral authority to address this issue as it is alleged that corruption – using public resources for private gain – was rampant under their stewardship. Either way, two wrongs don’t make it right.
Fortunately, I was able to find the Bible on these matters from Transparency International that was shelved (inexplicably for me after Jeremy Pope’s passing), and which has been dusted off for further study, public consumption and rumination to guide us in this endeavour. You can find this resource here at: CONFRONTING CORRUPTION: THE ELEMENTS OF A NATIONAL INTEGRITY SYSTEM – The TI Source Book 2000 by JEREMY POPE.
Unlike an ordinary citizen who has to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, given the extraordinary nature of their influence and power, extraordinary measures have to be taken for those with additional powers. Unless and until we have enforceable anti-corruption laws like Freedom of Information Act, and Integrity in Public Life Legislation, one can only assume given our human nature and the extraordinary pressures by nefarious characters within and without that they are all scamps, since we cannot prove otherwise! It is only when we have these anti-corruption tools at hand in the point-of-care in real-time of our nation’s governance, that we can only diagnose and hold accountable our public leaders at the highest level and prove them guilty as charged.
It is my fervent hope that such legislation would be tabled, debated and passed forthwith, to remove all doubt that our politicians and our diplomats are NOT scamps, self-serving and abusing of the public trust that we have bestowed on them. Again, until and unless this is done, we have no recourse or remedy but to admit, they ARE all scamps of the lowest caliber, as we haven’t been given the tools and instruments to prove otherwise!!
It is also hoped that the media, the fourth estate, would be able to use this as a teaching opportunity, to call on the leadership of this administration, either in their forums or a monthly press conference, to account for his colleague’s intention and purported behaviour in this and similar affairs. For such an account not to be forthcoming in a transparent and open manner would be less than exemplary of the new integrity-promoting dispensation most of us rallied for, had demanded and had expected, as responsible concerned citizens of this Federation.