A Democratic Tipping Point

Published: Sunday | October 22, 2006


West Indies cricket once conjured up memories of halcyon glory. Nowadays, it usually means shameful humiliation. But, what one win can do. The Windies' victory over Australia on Wednesday put a smile on everyone's face and once again sportscasters waxed deliriously about the 'glorious uncertainty of cricket'.

The highlight was my man Jerome Taylor's hat-trick - the first ever by a West Indian bowler in a one-day international.

I've helped to mentor this youngster over the past three years and he has the goods. He's an exceptional athlete, a thinker and a hard worker. If God willing he stay injury free and keep his feet on the ground, he will be a great one. And heck, if Marlon Samuels and Dwayne Smith learn to average even 30, the West Indies can win the 2007 World Cup.

But back to more serious, if less exciting, matters. Yes I'm getting sick of Trafigura too. It's been on the front pages for two weeks and we still don't know what happened. Maybe it's time to put it behind us and move on. Don't we need to get past the scandals and focus on the nation's real problems?

Such spin doctoring and 'nine day wonder' ennui is certainly what the PNP is counting on, since it has said nothing convincing on the issue. And maybe their 'You gonna believe me or your lying eyes?' cynicism is justified. Maybe the Jamaican populace is so fickle and shallow that it will soon forget about that mysterious $31 million. "Trafigura? Cho, that dead and gone. Just another scandal rumour. A Portia me love and a vote for".

Well democracy is a messy, unpredictable beast. But, its fundamental tenet is that no matter how foolish as individuals, humanity en masse is wise. You can fool some people some of the time, but you can't fool all the people all the time.

Here are the facts we know. In late August to save $300,000 treatment costs, a Trafigura hired ship went from Holland to the Ivory Coast and dumped 500 tons of raw toxic waste, which has so far caused 10 deaths and 102,000 to be hospitalised. Trafigura director, Claude Dauphin, is now in an Ivory Coast jail on charges of mass poisoning.

Jamaica has an oil trading agreement with Trafigura from which it has earned $170,000 in the last 18 months. In August, Trafigura exe-cutives, including Claude Dauphin, visited Jamaica. In early September Trafigura transferred the equivalent of US$585,000, or J$38.6 million, to CCOC. CCOC - Colin Campbell Our Candidate - then drew cheques totalling $30 million to SW Services, a PNP campaign account.

A donation

PNP executives claim this money was a donation from Trafigura. Trafigura says it involved a commercial agreement with CCOC, since apparently a political donation from Trafigura would be a contravention of OECD Conventions.

Former PNP General Secretary and Minister of Information Colin Campbell has resigned. Attorney General and Minister of Justice A.J. Nicholson at first denied there was no wrong doing involved, but now says that if he knew then what he knew now he would not have spoken as he did. Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller says the money will be returned to Trafigura.

Last Tuesday in Parliament, government members again denied any wrong doing. Their story is essentially this; first of all no government official requested any donation from Trafigura and its executives flew completely unasked to Jamaica in August. They met with Prime Minister Simpson Miller for half hour but discussed no business. Though party president, she was apparently not told of Trafigura's decision to donate US $585,000 to the PNP with no quid pro quo strings attached.

Breath-taking cynicism

Now, it takes breath-taking cynicism to expect the public to buy a half-cocked story such as this. Yet, perhaps this undisguised contempt for the Jamaican people and media is justified. For the sheep have been separated from the goats, and many fiercely 'objective' journalists have no problem with this 'Fairy Godmother Trafigura' tale.

Some equated Trafigura's 'gift' with US Aid donations. And even if Trafigura's 'donation' breached the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, Jamaica is not part of the OECD - so what's the problem? Well, says the OECD "... bribery of foreign government officials in international business transactions is a serious threat to ... democratic institutions."

Two radio hosts and an editor informed me that bauxite companies in Manchester damage the environment too, yet people still do business with them. So they saw no moral problem with government ministers accepting a 'donation' from Trafigura, even if it has caused widespread death and injury by dumping raw toxic waste.

Could you imagine Alexander Bustamante, who bared his chest to bayonets to get better conditions for workers, or Norman Manley, who founded Jamaica Welfare to help the helpless, taking money from a company that recklessly put innocent lives at risk to save a little money?

No remorse

Incredibly, not a single PNP member has expressed any remorse for accepting donations from a company so steeped in blood as Trafigura. Whatever their other faults, I've always thought Omar Davis and Peter Phillips men of principle. But, on Tuesday they too trumpeted the 'maybe wrong but not technically illegal' defence. Next day Dr. Davies said 'There was an error of judgement', but not what this error was. Nor did he address the ethical issues. Gentlemen, Norman Manley would be ashamed of you.

Some churchmen say it's not their job to criticise corruption. Yet if that Trafigura money had gone to the public purse instead of CCOC, perhaps babies would not be dying at Jubilee Hospital for lack of equipment. But our preachers think pontificating on homosexuality and nude weddings more important than condemning blood money bribery. By God, men like Bishop Percival William Gibson would be disgusted.

In Parliament on Tuesday K.D. Knight claimed the Trafigura money was an unsolicited donation. But the PNP knew that Trafigura could not give a political donation to Jamaican public officials without breaching OECD Anti-Bribery Conventions. So to facilitate the donation, both agreed to create a dummy contract. Mr. Knight has thus in effect admitted on the parliamentary record that government officials colluded with Trafigura to circumvent international and Dutch anti-corruption laws.

Since this all but convicts Trafigura of international bribery under OECD rules, its reaction will be interesting, though Claude Dauphin has bigger problems right now. But, how can a self-respecting government admit to willingly and knowingly being party to the breaking of international laws?

How can a self-respecting nation accept this kind of behaviour from public officials?

I demand answers

And if there was no impropriety about the Trafigura 'donation', why has Colin Campbell resigned? Why has A.J. Nicholson apologised? Why has the Prime Minister ordered the money to be returned?

A healthy democracy alone may not make a people happy, but the absence of one will certainly make them miserable. And democracy is, among other things, a quest for truth in public affairs. The more the Trafigura affair drags on without a convincing explanation from the government, the more it seems a democratic tipping point for this nation.

Malcom Gladwell, whose mother is Jamaican, defined 'The Tipping Point' as 'the moment of critical mass, the one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once.' And the response of our public commentators makes me wonder if Trafigura may not come to be seen as a moment when Jamaica reaffirmed its commitment to democracy by tenaciously seeking the truth. Or the moment when our body politic began to collapse as our intelligentsia blindly sacrificed its integrity and credibility on the altar of party fanaticism.

Comments (0)

Post a Comment
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
(not publicly displayed)
Reply Notification:
Approval Notification:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image:
* Message: