|PM rejects claims of corruption in his gov't
Wednesday, May 01, 2002
WITH his administration being battered in recent months by a wave of scandals, Prime Minister P J Patterson yesterday rejected claims of endemic corruption in the government, insisted that he had done most to ensure transparency and tabled a code of conduct by which his ministers and parliamentarians are to abide.
At the same time, Patterson urged Jamaicans to give his ruling People's National Party (PNP) a fourth consecutive term in government in elections later this year, saying that it had laid the ground work for Jamaica's growth and development.
"We have laid a solid foundation," Patterson said during his contribution to the debate on the government's $211 billion budget for 2002/2003. "A road for sustained growth has been constructed and paved. We intend to be the ones driving down the road."
Recent opinion polls have shown the PNP trailing the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), helped to a significant degree by issues such as allegations of cronyism and corruption in the shelter programme, Operation PRIDE, that forced the resignation of Water and Housing Minister Karl Blythe.
The administration was also badly bruised by the earlier NetServ issue under which government agencies made loans for IT start-ups without proper due diligence or proper agreements in place.
But while he acknowledged that mistakes have been made, Patterson passionately defended his government's efforts at combating corruption and argued that much of what had come to light was because of programmes to encourage transparency.
"This government does not and will never condone corruption," Patterson declared. "The one thing that we cannot compromise is our character."
He mentioned among the initiatives undertaken by this administration to fight corruption:
* the Money Laundering Act;
* the Drug Forfeiture of Proceeds Act;
* the Corruption Prevention Act; and
* the Access to Information Bill which is still before Parliament.
The code of conduct tabled yesterday, and modelled on the British code, Patterson suggested, was part of this wider effort at promoting integrity in public life.
"Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of public interest," Patterson stressed in his overview ministry paper to the code. "It is an offence to do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their families and friends."
He also pointed out that it was an offence for ministers to place themselves "under any financial or other obligations to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in their performance of official duties" as well as stressed that public appointments and the recommendations and awarding of contracts should be based on merit.
"Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office," Patterson added.
The code itself warns ministers to avoid the danger of "actual or apparent conflict of interest between their ministerial position and the private financial interest in their exercise of power and influence.
They were also reminded not to accept gifts, hospitality or services "which might appear to place him or her under an obligation".
"All members of government are expected to adhere strictly to the provisions of the Parliamentary (Integrity of Members) Act," the code of conduct says. "Failure to so adhere could lead to the prime minister calling for the resignation of delinquent members."
Patterson told Parliament that his government recognised that despite all existing and future measures, corruption is always possible.
"Wherever credible evidence is unearthed that corruption may have occurred, it is imperative that each case is relentlessly investigated without reference," he said.
On the broader issue of the economy, Patterson was upbeat about Jamaica's prospects, arguing that growth could be substantially above expectations.
When the growth potential of Highway 2000 was factored, then growth projection for the economy in the medium-term would be six per cent, he said.