By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Dec. 9, 2021)
“Integrity gives you real freedom because you have nothing to fear since you have nothing to hide. Integrity is telling myself the truth, and honesty is telling the truth to others.” — Anonymous.
When news broke that Grenadian Prime Minister, Dickon Mitchell had declared his assets to Integrity Commissioner, Anande Trotman, I felt sorry for my country. Mitchell has been in power for a mere 168 days. He was responding to the demands of the Integrity in Public Act (2013) which required all elected politicians and other high government officials to disclose their assets.
In making the Dec. 1 declaration, Mitchell said. “It’s simple, but a little exhausting because it forces you to look at your life and list everything that you basically own.”
Talk about leading from in front!
Compare PM Mitchell’s act to that of Comrade Gonsalves. Today marks 7,927 days since Gonsalves and his clansmen occupy the corridors of power in our wretched land. During the March 28, 2001 election campaign, change for the better was the party’s mantra. Based on what passed for good governance under the New Democratic Party regime, the ULP’s manifesto promise to enact integrity legislation was seductively popular. The party won 56% of the votes cast and 12 of the 15 seats in the legislature.
Former deputy PM Vincent Beache boldly declared that he would leave the administration if integrity legislation were not enacted in the first 100 days. Nothing happened, unfortunately. He served faithfully until biology ordered him to the ancestral realm way passed his allotted three scores and ten.
Eventually, Gonsalves made bold to say that there is no need for integrity legislation. According to the Boss of the Family, there is a raft of laws that can adequately deal with the corrupt practices of politicians and other public officials. Why has no politician or public official, except a former registrar, been fired, disgraced or tried for corruption? Gonsalves pat answer: official corruption ended after he came to power.
If you believe that garbage, you deserve exclusive ownership of the $600 million port under construction at Rose Place.
Consider this! At the same time, Gonsalves decided to renege on integrity legislation, ULP parliamentarian rushed to Parliament in 2002 and passed the Freedom of Information Act. Twenty years after its passage, the law has yet to be brought into force.
You have to give it to Gonsalves. He has an ear for the demands and an eye for the needs of the people: Rasta pilgrimage to Ethiopia, letter to CARICOM on marijuana reform, demand for reparations for genocide and slavery, nominate this or that woman to high office. He may not fulfil those needs or demands but look for him to talk around them. His policies are demonstrably insincere. He might say aspirational. As the Americans say, he is the supreme triangulator. In Jamaica, he is the ginal par excellence. Increasingly, more of our people have come to know him as the master of rhetoric and mamaguy.
Gonsalves does nothing for its intrinsic value. He has studied the art of war. He is the supreme evangelist. He is the prime vote catcher. He will do everything and no more to remain in power to feather his nest and that of his clansmen.
Why has Gonsalves abandoned integrity legislation and freedom of information? The short answer is that those pieces of legislation are hazardous to his rule. Citizens will be armed with tools with which to dig and search. There is a more significant potential that skeletons would be unearthed, and dirty linen would hang in plain sight. Kingstown may be a huge laundry, but some things cannot be washed clean.
In more developed countries, lifestyle audits are conducted. They target mainly white-collar criminals or “flammers” in the informal economy. But here, only poor persons who beat the system at its dirty game are targeted. If you sell a few pounds of ganja and knock up a three-bedroom wall structure for mommy and one for you and your children, the Financial Intelligence Unit comes knocking. Many, rolling in high-value illicit funds and assets, get free passes. All they need is a veneer of legitimacy. Pay rent; become a woman of business.
If you are a Clansman, form a company with relatives or friends as directors and ply your trade. There is more than enough at the public trough for all astute hanger-ons to eat ah food. Poor and ordinary supporters need not apply. As Ras John is fond of saying, some who had little or nothing in 2001 now have more vehicles than the Ministry of Transport and more houses than the housing department. Since the country is said to be broke, those occupying the connected top tier may have much more money than the treasury.
While Gonsalves has turned his back on integrity legislation and the freedom of information, he has enacted laws that can target perceived political opponents and honest, upstanding citizens. Recently, I received the shock of my life in the form of a letter from Gonsalves’ Financial Services Authority. It demanded that I supply the authority with a police record, business plan, resume, and banking record for the last three years, among other onerous demands.
Clearly, this demand runs counter to the long-established legal professional privilege. Case law in Jamaica and Canada has reaffirmed the privilege because of lawyers unique function in society. The difficulty, especially with the absence of a Legal Profession Act and General Legal Council, with these kinds of laws, comes with selective enforcement. In the same way, some people don’t get audited by the Tax Department, the same way the Financial Services Authority could target others.
If Government wants to stamp out corrupt practices, it can cast its eyes on other locations. Last week my law office made all but $1,500. I am quite contented with the meagre pickings. Mother Priam said, “It won’t be always so.”
Our people must become much more serious and demand democratic best practices and good governance. No party that frowns on integrity legislation and freedom of information deserve to reign over us.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].