Tuesday 4 August, 2020

Gov't rubbishes PNP's 'inaction' claim, says it won't comment on probe

Dr Horace Chang

Dr Horace Chang

The threat by the Opposition to take protest action to pressure the Government, over alleged inaction on corruption, has been brushed aside by the Andrew Holness–led administration.

Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips, warned during a People's National Party (PNP) press conference on Monday that the PNP would take action, including protests, to force the government to act on what it said were several instances of corrupt activities at state entities for which no one has been held accountable.

Phillips singled out the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), which is at the centre of the corruption scandal that erupted at the Ministry of Education in March and which led to the firing of Ruel Reid as Education Minister by Holness.

Specifically, Phillips took issue with the fact that CMU President, Professor Fritz Pinnock Pinnock has returned to the university from voluntary leave while the investigation is ongoing, with no comment from the Government.

“I point to the fact of the return of the president of the Caribbean Maritime University to his post without comment from the Government, and without any indication that the investigations are complete,” said Phillips.

Phillips also asserted that staff at the CMU, were improperly appointed, and he wants those contracts overturned.

“No arrests have been made, neither in relation to the misuse and abuse of funds in the Ministry of Education or the Caribbean Maritime [University] despite the fact that much evidence has been provided publicly and in the Parliament about the misuse of such funds,” Phillips stated.

However, the government responded Monday night by way of a statement issued by acting Prime Minister, Dr Horace Chang, who described as “troubling” the position taken by Phillips which suggests that the administration should report on ongoing investigations.

“Dr Phillips' call shows a lack of understanding of the current anti-corruption framework and the modern tenets of good governance, which requires politicians to not interfere with independent investigations,” Chang stated.

“I will remind the leader of the opposition that the bodies currently conducting their statutory duty to investigate are independent and should be insulated from political interference,” Chang added.

The National Security Minister is acting as prime minister while Holness is overseas at a climate change conference.

Phillips had earlier told the press conference that “If the Government does not take a course of action that satisfies us, all of us will have to plan and take further action... because [we] will not participate in this normalisation of corrupt behaviour in Government.”

“The first thing we will have to do is to consult with other stakeholders and to see what is happening, and to see what may be open to us through the courts, and to see what may be open through other action, including protest action,” he declared.

But Chang is insisting that “The Government …will not interfere with any investigations and will not support the call by the opposition leader to undermine the credibility and authority of these independent bodies.”

Phillips also referenced a number of scandals over the past three years for which investigations have been completed but no one held criminally liable. These include the Petrojam scandal, the debushing scandal and the misuse of funds at the Ministry of Local Government.

The PNP led several street protests earlier this year, with Phillips stating that the Holness administration has been the most corrupt in the country’s history. He also described the Petrojam scandal as the “mother of all scandals.”

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