Diggin’ deeper

Since the beginning of the Trafigura scandal here in Jamaica [catch up here], it is noticeable that, if there are not many outright lies in this affair, there are certainly many people being “economical with the truth”, to use that celebrated expression.

At the moment, there is still a degree of fuzziness about the gift/bribe. In other countries, the onus is on the government to prove there is no trace of possible corruption; here, it is up to people like journalist Mark Wignall to keep picking at the pieces. The question of whether anyone personally profited from the $31 million would clarify the issue enormously. The number of people who knew, and exactly what they knew, is another point he rightly pursues.

From my own reading, I find the Prime Minister’s spokesperson’s words of yesterday a little too carefully chosen, as if he was tiptoeing through a minefield.

Robinson was unable to say whether the prime minister, wearing her party hat as president, had met on any other occasions with the Trafigura representatives.
“I would not have known about such a meeting with the PNP,” he said. “If she met with the Trafigura people along with other PNP officers, I do not know of it.”

That’s why Catholics came up with the notion of a sin of omission rather than a sin of complicity, I guess.

It is clear that Trafigura’s President, Claude Dauphin, currently resident in jail in Abidjan, met Campbell and the PM during his last visit to Jamaica on 23-24 August, yet no one has come up with the timing. Does the PM not have a public diary? That would show if the meeting admitted was their only meeting.

Her spokesperson claims that the PM met with Trafugura’s man for 25-30 minutes, but merely exchanged “pleasantries”.

Imagine eavesdropping …

CD: Congratulations Prime Minister on being the first female leader of Jamaica!
PM: Thank you Mr Dauphin, it’s very kind of you.
CD: You seem to be very popular with your people.
PM: We’re trying our best, you know.
CD: I’m sure you are!

CD: Mmm, this coffee is delicious!
PM: We make the best coffee in the world, you know.
CD: Yes, mmm.

PM: Another biscuit?
CD: Thank you.

CD: Phoof! The time is hot!
PM: Yes, it is.

How long did that take??

Scintillating stuff. And at no time did they talk business, even though the relationship between Trafigura and the Government of Jamaica is purely business, right?

Writing wrongs

Taking a break from the political meltdown here in Jamaica, I got a tip-off from a fellow editor in Rome about a new term for spellcheck mis-corrections: The Cupertino Effect.

The origin of the term, coined at the Language Log, is from the the common mistyping of “cooperation” as “cooperatino”. Bizarrely, certain spellcheckers offer “Cupertino” as a correction. Editors, being the lazy bums we are, don’t always re-read what we’ve edited, resulting in gibberish such as,

Could you tell us how far such policy can go under the euro zone, and specifically where the limits of this Cupertino would be? (European Central Bank press conference, 3 Nov. 1998)

Even more bizarre, and amusing, is the misspelling of “cumulation” as “comulation”, mis-corrected by spellcheck to … “copulation”. You can imagine the result …

The Western Balkan countries confirmed their intention to further liberalise trade amongst each other. They requested that they be included in the pan-european system of diagonal copulation, which would benefit trade and economic development. (International Organization for Migration, Foreign Ministers Meeting, 22 Nov. 2004)

[Read more, much more, at the Language Log]

On second thoughts, I’m going to get in a quick rant about the incompetents in office here: we had three power outages in the space of twelve hours today – I was cooking by the light of a hurricane lamp this evening. Why is it not possible to maintain a reliable electricity supply? I lived in Abidjan (you know the name from recent news) for a few years and never experienced such ramshackle management of public services.

And yes, I count myself lucky even with brown water coming out my taps most days. Can you believe that there are people in Jamaica who have not had any running water since the supply infrastructure was damaged by Hurricane (wait for it …) Gilbert … in 1988! There are children, now grown with their own children, who have never seen water running from their taps! [Read more …]

It’s obvious people are fed up with the rotten state of affairs, but will the discontent evident in newspapers and radio call-in shows be transformed into something more concrete?

Chase dem crazy baal’eads

[cont.] Colin Campbell resigned.

I am not going to say that there is no corruption taking place; I would be crazy and stupid to say that.

– Colin Campbell, 1993 Gleaner Editors’ Forum

[audio:Bob Marley and the Wailers – Crazy Baldheads.mp3]

Here comes the conman
Coming with his con plan
We won’t take no bribe, we got to stay alive

We gonna chase those crazy
Chase those crazy baldheads
Chase those crazy baldheads out of town

– Rita Marley & Vincent Ford, “Crazy baldheads”


A bribe by any other name

… is still a bribe.

[cont.] The money given by Trafigura Beheer B.V. to the ruling People’s National Party (PNP) was originally described by both parties as a donation. Since then, Trafigura realized that it was illegal in Jamaica for a company with a contract with the government to give contributions to that same government. That is why they now claim the money is part of a commercial transaction. This of course leaves the PNP in an even worse position, since the money went into an account intended for party fundraising, and more specifically an account in the name of the minister of information.

I think this is only the beginning. If an independent audit was done of PNP financial activities (including cut-price land sales to high-ranking officials), the Jamaican people would kick out the government without a second thought.

On the other hand, maybe Jamaicans are inured to this kind of abuse of their trust.

I hope not. They deserve better.

Tis the season to be silly

In the UK, the “silly season” in the media refers to the summer period when parliament is on recess. In Jamaica, I was surprised to note, the “silly season” begins when the politicians start gearing up for election.

The first sign for me was the huge headline in the Observer last week:

COMMUNIST PLOT IN PNP [People’s National Party]

Communists in Jamaica? Rarer than the manatees, I thought. Two days later, the paper carried a long interview with a hopeful Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate in the yet-to-be-announced general election. The candidate ranted about how the current representative, from the ruling PNP, had not had a consituency office in the area since 2002. The paper found out later that in fact the PNP had opened an office just a few weeks earlier. In shoddy contrast, this contender had left Jamaica some ten years ago and returned only in May to run as a candidate, parachuted into a “troubled” east Kingston hot spot.

“My reason for being back here is my love of Bruce Golding (the JLP leader), but mostly my love of this country,” she says.

“It was my intention to come back and to give my vast experience to the party on a whole, but I was persuaded that this particular constituency needs a special person, and I have fallen in love with South East St Andrew.”

This is a woman with a whole lotta love.

“I love shoes! That’s my weakness,” she admits. “People say this and that about Imelda Marcos (of The Philippines) and about her thousands of shoes, but I have no problem with her. That woman knew what she was up to,” she laughs, showing off the gold sparkles and paisley pattern of her heels.

Not only has she fallen in love with South East St Andrew, from which she plans her comeback, but from her own account, the constituency is beginning to love her back. [no details given]

Love has its limits, however, and it should be remembered that the last time this candidate ran for office, her opponent was shot dead by the police on the eve of the election – one of the 800 killed during the 1980 election period.

This week’s silliness was the revelation of a huge donation to the PNP by the Dutch-based oil trading company, Trafigura. No stranger to controversy, Trafigura has been held responsible for massive toxic dumping in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, just last month, causing the deaths of eight people, with thousands more suffering from the effects of poisoning. (Read more …) A few years ago, the same company was alleged by the independent inquiry into the oil-for-food scandal in Iraq to have bribed local officials and falsified documents (Read more …, p. 176). Trafigura then tried to sell the oil in the U.S. … but was caught there as well! (Read more … item 48)

Which proverb fits here? Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth? (toxic breath!) Beggars can’t be choosers? I don’t know, but the initial reactions from the PNP were hilarious. The general-secretary of the party and Minister of Information, Colin Campbell said,

“[Trafigura] made the offer. They said that they know elections are imminent in Jamaica and they are intending to make a contribution, […] I don’t know if it is for both political parties.”

Bwoy! Ice wouldn’t melt in his mouth!

The opposition leader had revealed that the donation had been deposited in an account known as CCOC Association.

Colin Campbell explained yesterday that the letters CCOC stood for nothing in particular, but was the name of the account into which the party’s campaign finances are lodged.

The signature on the cheques from the CCOC account to the party funds belongs to Norton Hinds, who today was eager to dissociate himself from any complicity. First he helpfully clarified the origin of the CCOC account.

That account was opened in 1992 when Colin Campbell went into politics. […] At that time, a group of us came together to give him support, and we formed a group we called the CCOC Association, which stands for Colin Campbell Our Candidate.”

Funny that Mr Campbell forgot to mention that detail.

Hinds withdrew from active management of the account in 1993; nevertheless,

For many years since, he said, Campbell would, from time-to-time, come to him with blank cheques to be signed – which he would – without asking what the funds were for.
“Colin brings the cheques and I sit down and sign them, but I have no involvement in the use or acquisition of those funds,” Hinds insisted.

Brilliantly swatting aside an opportunity to score points for transparency and probity, PNP chairman, Robert Pickersgill, said on Wednesday that his party would only reveal their funding if the opposition party did likewise.

“As long as they are going to do theirs, we will do ours.”

This is known as the I’ll-show-you-mine-if-you-show-me-yours political philosophy.

On a slight tangent, I note this morning that Jamaica ranks 60th in the 2006 Global Competitive Index and 64th in the Corruption Perception Index.

Given the current state of silliness here, I can imagine some politicians thinking that such similar rankings were actually an indication of stability.

Thought for today
In Jamaica, transparency is a blank cheque.