By David Rowe
THE CONTRACTOR GENERAL is a Jamaican official whose job is to prevent corruption in the awarding of government contracts.
Back-scratching contracts have been a significant problem for more than three decades in Jamaica. Many Jamaican private sector companies have become outrageously prosperous by contracting consistently with the government of Jamaica, often without appropriate auditory oversight.
The Contractor General is by statute empowered to monitor government contracts to make sure that they are awarded impartially and on merit. The statute specifically makes the Contractor General independent of the government and insulated from political interference.
Further, the Contractor General is vested with the power of a Supreme Court Judge, and can issue summonses to any person who fails to comply with any lawful investigative requirements.
The Office of the Contractor General returned to the headlines in Jamaica last week when it referred Jamaica’s Cabinet to the Director of Public Prosecutions for criminal proceedings because of an allegedly deliberate and obstructive lack of cooperation by the Cabinet on information requests concerning a number of major projects.
This has caused a political uproar in Jamaica. The mere thought of Jamaican politicians facing criminal proceedings is sacrilege. Yet American, British and Canadian politicians go to jail for ethics violations with regularity. Why should Jamaican politicians be immune from their own laws?
The Constitution of Jamaica, like those of most Caribbean nations, guarantees the Separation of Powers. Why should our respective Cabinets be ably to flout the Rule of law?
Many of the donor agencies which help to keep Jamaica financially afloat require strong anti-corruption laws, transparency and legitimacy. And donor money should not be used to fund government contracts whose wholesomeness has not been determined.
It is in the long-term interest of Jamaica’s Cabinet to comply with the mandatory statutory anti-corruption requirements of the Contractor General Act and respond to the OCG’s information requests.Parliamentary sovereignty and executive privilege should not be used to violate the law. This has been the case since the Magna Carta.
By complying with the Contractor General Act, Jamaica can move its way of doing business into the 21st century. Both the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party in Jamaica have historically campaigned on the basis of corruption-free administrations and reforms. Unfortunately, reform never seems to occur. Ultimately, the business of Jamaican government always returns to the status quo.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.
David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and a law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.