Mon | Sep 21, 2020

Jaristotle's Jottings | The ills of complicity and complacency

Published:Thursday | January 23, 2020 | 12:00 AM

At a recent sitting of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) where the auditor general’s report on aspects of RADA’s (Rural Agricultural Development Authority) bidding methodology for road rehabilitation contracts was being discussed, the auditor general posited that regardless of what may be perceived as normal practices and explanations provided by government officials to justify their activities, “it is my responsibility to point out where there are breaches … I cannot take it on myself to accept it because then I become complicit, and I will be called on to provide an explanation alongside the perpetrators of the act”. She deserves a standing ovation.

Long gone are the days when it was considered ignominious to not just be a perpetrator of illicit activities, but to have had such illicit activities take place within your area of responsibility, under your watch. Gone are the days when the exercise of responsibility was integral to one’s reputation; when to question how one exercised such responsibility was to question one’s suitability for the job. Not so these days.

Responsibility vis-a-vis accountability

Let’s take the matter of the alleged breaches of government procedures at the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), for instance. The Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act (PBMA Act) speaks to the duty of directors of public bodies to ensure accountability for the resources of the public body, and to develop adequate control, evaluation and reporting systems within the body.

In the instant matter of the CMU, the directorship rests with the council. However, until very recently we have heard precious little from the members of the council since the ‘scandal’ broke how many months ago. The deafening silence has inevitably led to speculation regarding the extent to which the council members were executing their fiduciary responsibilities in ensuring adequate control, evaluation and reporting systems on the part of the CMU’s management.

Given the allegations of widespread breaches of government procurement and related procedures, is it that they were complacent, ignorant to what was happening under their watch, in which case they failed in their duties? Or, was it that they were aware of, and accepted the alleged shenanigans and did nothing, which then makes them ‘complicit and deserving to be called on to provide an explanation alongside the alleged perpetrators of the breaches’.

Only the prime minister had the testicular fortitude to summon and terminate the then minister of education. Other likely culpable individuals thereafter hunkered down, armed themselves with lawyers and remained rooted. Why so, when neither complacency nor complicity is acceptable?

But then, Jamaica is a small place with nuff secrets where everybody knows everybody’s business; where I scratch your back and you scratch mine and mum is the word. This is especially commonplace in public governance circles where, given the nature of our politics, the connected few largely hold coveted appointments as power brokers and stewards of government agencies. Is this then the root basis of the government’s failure to be cruel to others beyond Ruel?

Delaying the inevitable

Perhaps there is some merit to the above question when one considers the delays in tabling the auditor general’s report on the audit of the CMU, which was reportedly submitted to the government just after Christmas last year.

Are the delays premised on a ‘nine-day wonder’, which will see the report being swept under the carpet; or to buy time for political spin-doctors and lawyers of the accused to chuck poppycock upon John Public?

If the government is party to either of the above, then surely they are complicit in total and liable to be called on to provide an explanation alongside the purported perpetrators. If not, then we can only assume complacency and ineptitude, which are equally unacceptable. Take your pick.

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