Saturday, October 29, 2011

Contractor General Greg Christie comes to Town

The Seventh annual Caribbean International Network (CIN) Lecture Series held at the Schomburg Research Center in New York on Wednesday October 26th was presented by Greg Christie the Contractor General of Jamaica.


The kick-off reception gave the predominantly African American and Caribbean politicos, community activists and movers and shakers an opportunity to schmooze while mixing and mingling with Lowell and Lorna Hawthorne of the successful Golden Krust Franchise, the young professionals from Jampact, The Hon. Una Clark and her husband Leslie Clarke, together with other dignitaries.

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Hosted by Bob Warr, props must surely go to the Schomburg for not only hosting the CIN series, but for also continuing to provide excellent programs and exhibits in the heart of Harlem.  On a side note, if you have yet to visit their changing exhibits – please do make it a point to do so and while you are at it, as they struggle to bridge their budget deficit caused by cuts in government funding I’d urge you to become a member.

Mr. Christie opened his presentation with an explanation of his mandate as Contractor General:

The Contractor-General is an independent, anti-corruption Commission of Parliament. It was established by the Contractor General Act in 1986 and is  the State's leading institution in the quest to ensure that the public sector procurement process delivers value to the tax-payer, is merit based, is free from corruption, impropriety and irregularity and is transparent, impartial, competitive, fair, efficient and effective. Its primary functions are the monitoring and investigation of the award of Government contracts, licenses and permits.

Mr. Christie made several references to former Prime Minister, Edward Seaga who bemoaned the hitherto ineffectiveness of the Office, which can potentially lay itself open to manipulation by whatever Government is in power in the awarding of government contracts.  Mr. Christie came to office in 2005, the fourth such appointed official since the creation of the position.

I was proud to be sitting in the audience to hear him, calmly and dispassionately present the case that has many Jamaicans alarmed, not just those in the Diaspora, but those who also live with the effects of corruption on a daily basis.

Using empirical data and undisputed facts, Mr. Christie presents an alarming tale of corruption that runs so deep one wonders if a diamond-edged scalpel would be able to cut away the years of abuse, neglect and complacency in disparate levels of government and public service.  One senses his frustration when he relays the findings of the 2008 findings where Jamaicans counter that corruption is the major issue of concern for them.  Despite the fact that that same year some 1,682 murders occurred on the island, corruption was uppermost in the minds of ordinary Jamaican men and women.  Jamaica is seen in the international market as the most corrupt country in the English speaking Caribbean!

He points to the fact that there seems to be no political will to change the real and perceived incapacity to implement the laws of the land intended to ensure that there is above all transparency in all governmental dealings.  Mr. Christie was at pains to highlight that his office carries no prosecutorial powers, but when he presents his reports to those officials who DO have the power to take steps on his recommendations, their response is almost criminally lacking.  In effect, the current situation is a shameful failure to prosecute based on the Contractor General’s findings.  It is undisputed that a massive backlog of criminal cases in the court system has stretched the justice system to almost breaking point and the high-profile and sensational murder cases takes precedence over those white collar crimes that are more harmful to the economic and moral compass of the country.  One wonders if of the 1,800 matters referred to the DPP for prosecution why only some 500 were prosecuted and it certainly would be interesting to note the outcome of those prosecutions.  Mr. Christie, a lawyer of some 30 years would certainly know which cases have merit for prosecution, so one has to question whether there is some ulterior motive by the Director of Public Prosecutions.  When the Minister of Justice, The Hon. Delroy Chuck says that the justice system in Jamaica is corrupt – there is nothing further to add.

One seemingly small victory that Mr. Christie can claim is the introduction and full compliance with the QCA (Quarterly Contract Award) that requires every Procuring Public Body to submit to the Contractor General reports of the particulars of contracts which are awarded by it which are of a value of J$250,000 to J$3,999,999.99.  On the face of it a small step in the implementation of checks and balances – however, where there is no accounting there can be no action against flagrant disregard for the rules.

The Contractor General’s office has come under fire from the very government whose dealings with the public it is seeking to keep transparent and above board.  Sitting MPs have moved to have its powers curtailed and has disparaged not just the office of Contractor General but the person of Contractor General himself.

Greg Christie is not the only good man in Jamaica pointing out injustices, but he certainly is one of the most relentless in carrying out his office in an unassuming and unbiased manner.  Stridently resisting any attempts to paint him as a partisan, he is quick to point out that the office is not aligned with any one party, but merely standing in the gap and defending the interests of the people of Jamaica.