The United States of America has entered an unprecedented era of lawbreaking by holders of public office and the normalization of wrongdoing.
As such, there is little shock and surprise that a former president has the unenviable record of having been twice impeached and indicted four times. He faces ninety-one (yes, 91!) charges across these four indictments and yet, six of eight candidates running for president say they would vote for him if he were convicted, and millions of other citizens say he is innocent. Of course, the man himself, Donald Trump, insists he did “nothing wrong”.
Trump’s success at normalizing lawbreaking and unethical conduct has not happened while Americans and the rest of the world were sleeping. It took place in broad daylight. While it is arguable that Trump’s level of lawbreaking and unethical conduct are in a class by themselves, the central core of what he represents is becoming increasingly common in other countries, including Jamaica. This should be a concern to citizens in every country in which holders of public office show a tendency to normalize, or have in fact engaged in normalizing, lawbreaking, and unethical conduct.
It is this blossoming of the normalizing of lawbreaking and indifference to unethical conduct, that constitutes my case against Jamaica’s Prime Minister, Andrew Holness.
Setting distractions aside
I am mindful that some who hear this, will construe it as personal. For those who hold that view, I extend this invitation: let us examine the evidence. If upon examining the evidence you come to the view that the facts do not rise to a level that should raise concern, then let us have a debate. But before you embark on the debate, I invite you to examine the facts.
The elements of the case
There are five main elements of my case against Prime Minister Andrew Holness:
(1) Corruption referral and attack on the Integrity Commission (IC). Let me firstly disclose that years before February 2023, when it became public that the Director of Corruption Investigation (at the country’s chief anti-corruption entity, the Integrity Commission), had made a referral of PM Holness to the Director of Corruption Prosecution, I was aware of some of the items in the charges, having been told of them by persons (outside of the Integrity Commission) who had intimate knowledge of the matter. I was, therefore, not surprised at the referral, but at the decision of the Director of Corruption Prosecution not to proceed to charge the Prime Minister.
It is a stunning and not-to-be-forgotten fact that the Director of Corruption Prosecution did not make a finding that the allegations of the Director of Corruption Investigation are unfounded. Her decision did not question the findings of fact made by the Director of Corruption Investigation.
(2) Uncertified financial declarations: Corruption in Jamaica is exceedingly high. One form in which corruption manifests itself is the use of public office for illicit enrichment. The Integrity Commission Act (whose legislation was crafted largely during the Simpson-Miller administration and led in terms of legislative construction by Mark Golding), was designed both to make it harder for public officials to enrich themselves at the public’s expense, as well as to strengthen the mechanisms for detection, investigation, and prosecution. The law also made it mandatory for the declarations of both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to be gazetted and published after being certified by the Integrity Commission.
Certification means, among other things, that the Integrity Commission is satisfied that there are plausible explanations for the origins of assets and causes of liabilities of a declarant, and that the wealth reflected by the assets has not been obtained through illicit means.
For almost a year now, the Integrity Commission has been unable to certify the 2021 declarations of the Prime Minister. That fact should concern well-thinking Jamaicans. The absence of certification is not based on willy-nilly objections or bad mind on the part of the Integrity Commission. The absence of certification means that the Integrity Commission is not satisfied with one or more aspects of the Prime Minister’s declaration and has unanswered questions. It is the duty of the declarant to satisfy the Integrity Commission. It is to be recalled that in addition to the non-certification of his declarations for 2021, he was late in the submission of his 2019 declarations, violating the law.
(3) Investigations for illicit enrichment: Six Members of Parliament (MPs) are under investigation for illicit enrichment, and there is every indication that they are all members of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP). In the face of that startling fact, the Prime Minister has sought to place a gag on his cabinet ministers to prevent them from saying whether they are under investigation. I have tried unsuccessfully to ascertain whether the Prime Minister has stated unequivocally that he is not under investigation. There is no public reporting that he has so stated.
So, what do we have?
(i) At one level we have a Prime Minister who was the subject of a corruption investigation and then a referral for corruption prosecution.
(ii) At another level, probably unrelated, we have a Prime Minister who is yet to obtain certification for his integrity declarations for 2021, as of August 2023.
(iii) At a third level we have a Prime Minister with six of his MPs under investigation for illicit enrichment. Rather than moving post-haste to establish who they are and remove them, temporarily until the investigations are completed, the Prime Minister has sought to impose silence. (This is a reasonable assumption since People’s National Party (PNP) president, Opposition Leader Mark Golding, has asserted unequivocally that none of the 21 parliamentarians on his side had been contacted by the IC as part of an illicit enrichment investigation.)
(iv) At yet a fourth level, we have a Prime Minister who has not declared whether he is under investigation for illicit enrichment.
(4) Repeated violations of the law and the constitution
No Premier or Prime Minister in Jamaica’s history has had a history of violating the constitutions as this current Prime Minister. From pre-signed letters of resignation (with two rebuffs from the court), to attempting to place the Chief Justice on probation, to National Identification System (NIDS) and states of emergency (SOEs) – the last of which will cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars based on the unconstitutionality of the actions of the Holness administration.
It is my considered position that this Prime Minister poses a clear and present danger to Jamaica’s democracy. These facts taken together render Prime Minister Holness, in my considered assessment, unfit to continue as Prime Minister. But we have a fifth reason, namely:
(5) The Unconscionable 200+% salary increase for politicians.
In May of this year, government gave members of the political directorate salary increases of over 200%. Let us briefly survey the context of the country in which this cruel act occurred:
- Jamaica experienced a 51% increase in poverty over the two-year period – 2019 to 2021. It is yet to be known what it is in 2023.
- Food costs have skyrocketed. Food inflation in November 2022 was over 14% above November of 2021. In January 2023 it was almost 13% over January 2022, and July 2023 it was more than 11% over July 2022.
- The Statistical Institute of Jamaica reports that most jobs created in the economy which now reports a 4.5% unemployment rate, are jobs that attract low wages.
- In the 2023/24 Budget, government announced an $8B increase in allocation to vulnerable families, under the Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) , but when you do the math, you discover that each beneficiary will be getting less than $600.00 per week.
- In April 2022, the World Food Programme reported on research which found that 40% of Jamaicans had reduced their food consumption, and 90% of had changed their shopping behaviour.
It is in the context of a society with these characteristics and harsh realities that the Holness administration gave a 200% + increase to members of the political directorate. This increase, one member of the governing party, no less a person than the wife of the Prime Minister, has described as coming closer to a liveable wage. And so, the question is: If it took a 200+% increase to bring the members of the political class to a liveable wage, how can it be fair for the struggling public sector worker, teachers, and nurses, to have been forced to accept a 20% increase? And if the 200%+ increase were justified and represented a great decision for the country, why did the Minister of Finance wait until the 20% was accepted that the increase of 200% for themselves was announced, given that he knew from the outset that this level of increase was likely?
What does trustable leadership look like?
Among the qualities of trustable, especially public, leadership are the following:
- An authentic and credible vision of creating a more just and equitable society, inclusive of an economic model which balances the interests of capital with the needs of labour.
- A commitment, expressed in lived conduct, to accountability and transparency.
- A demonstrated capacity to keep your word.
- The absence of suspicion about how you have acquired your wealth.
- A true commitment to uplift the less fortunate.
- A credible plan for advancing national well-being in education and overall better quality of life.
- A leadership philosophy and practice which meets the highest standards of integrity.
- A high level of intolerance of corruption.
- The use of public office to promote the good of the country, not solely the interests of friends and supporters.
- A private and public life which can be a role model for the young.
Canute Thompson is Professor of Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership and The University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, a social activist, and author of eight books and eighteen journal articles. His academic achievements include:
- Two Principal’s Awards in 2023 for research activity generating the most funds, and research activity with the most development impacts, serving as Project Director for a project executed by the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning.
- A 2022 Bronze place winner in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for his book, Education and Development: Policy Imperatives for Jamaica and the Caribbean.
- A 2021 finalist in The Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for all-round excellent performance in Outstanding Teaching, Outstanding Research Accomplishments, Outstanding Service to the University Community, Outstanding Public Service.
- A 2021 Principal’s Award for Most Outstanding Researcher.
- Two Principal’s Awards in 2020 for Most Outstanding Researcher and Best Publication for his book, Reimagining Educational Leadership in the Caribbean.