Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Monday, September 28, 2009

Mabey They Did, Maybe They Didn't: Money For What?

Jamaican politics is having one of those years. The country is already in the midst of the case of alleged corruption against Kern Spencer in the so-called 'Cuban light bulb case'. Now, we have the hurry-scurry over allegations made that former Minister Joseph Hibbert (pictured) was paid off to the tune of £100,000 to facilitate bridge contracts (see Guardian's September 25 report). John Hardy QC for the UK's Serious Fraud Squad (SFO), revealed the names of 12 individuals in six countries alleged to have received bribes from the Reading-based Mabey and Johnson; Hibbert's name was up in lights. As reported by the UK newspaper:

'This first conviction has been hailed as a landmark by the British government, which has been heavily criticised for failing to prosecute any UK firm for foreign bribery. Campaigners said the failure rendered the 1997 pledge to crack down on corrupt exporters worthless.

The firm will pay out more than £6.5m, including fines and reparations to foreign governments.'

The Jamaican media are no strangers to probing such events and are close on the trail of this story. Today's Observer has its report that PM Bruce Golding is acknowledging that he knew that Hibbert took money but it was not bribery and corruption but legitimate expenses (see Observer story):

'Prime Minister Bruce Golding told a Jamaica Labour Party conference yesterday that embattled former state minister Joseph Hibbert has admitted to taking money from disgraced British bridge-building firm Maybey [sic] and Johnson but that the payments were not for corrupt means nor were the amounts as high as being alleged.'

The PM is also quoted as saying:

"I had discussions with Joe about a year ago when this matter was first brought to my attention and Joe assured me of his innocence," Golding told Labourites at a conference in downtown Kingston....What Joe communicated to me was that whatever payments he received from Maybey and Johnson related to expenses that were incurred on a number of occasions when he would travel to England to go and inspect bridge material and bridge designs and the various things that were going to be supplied to Jamaica."

Well, we know people will be very skeptical of the claims in terms of "he would say that wouldn't he," or "there's no smoke without fire." But we live in a democratic system that guards jealously the notion of innocent until proven guilty. But, good to see some feet being held close to the fire.

Mabey and Johnson says that it has reformed itself. But its past deeds still leave a trail that may have some discomfort to come. One aspect relates to the activities of Sir Jonathon Danos. His name was prominent in the UK case and it had also surfaced in various regional reports (see The Panama News report, for example). Sir Jonathan Danos, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for promoting British exports and who worked for Mabey and Johnson Limited, the manufacturer of the prefabricated steel Bailey bridges, as its export sales chief until 2003. Danos then left Mabey to head a competitor company, Structural Steel Solutions (3S). Mabey and 3S are going after one another in the same Caribbean and Central American markets, with Danos apparently using his contacts made when he worked with Mabey to build 3S. This company was heavily involved in road improvements and proposed flyover constructions for the so-called ABC Highway in Barbados under the previous BLP administration. Relations with the company were severed by the current DLP administration (see Advocate July 28 report).

It will be interesting to see how the stories develop in Barbados, where the traditional media does not have a reputation for much probing. Some of the blogs have been on the case for a while and will no doubt get their teeth into it again.


Attack said...

Score one for Jamaica's foot in the water response. Someone resigned in anticipation of judgement and before he was pushed. Ghana's attempt at testing the waters involves passing the sole of the foot above the water, and declaring the little bit of spray adhering to it too cold.

Or if you like sports metaphors, the president of Ghana has gone into the Prevent Defense. Order all appropriate documentations obtained from the British government for study. Which means Government to Government contact, reviews by lawyers on both sides for attendant liabilities, and the impact of such a release on the probable appeals by interested parties. Let's say a year before request is fulfilled, if ever.

Second phase of Prevent: A-G orders ALL Mabey & Johnson documents from mid-90' to '05, widening net to include time opposition was in power after '00. Chilling effect seen on opposition, neutralizing calls for action on that front. In any case, since ALL documents will not be produced (who kept a truly comprehensive log, especially of official memos indicating size of bribes paid?), soon we'll hear of missing exculpatory documents.

Both of these steps will soon dampen debate: Matter is being looked into by GUVMEN!

The only players with any hope of really forcing the issue in the open are the media (hah!) and some of the general public willing to put their butts on the line.

Any takers?

Of course, the Guardian could do follow-ups, but not holding my breath here, either.

Of course, none of this is necessary. The entire judgement, highly detailed, is on the Internet. Furthermore, the President probably has the power to order immediately an independent prosecutor to look into this matter, with interested parties making their depositions under oath.

Won't happen, not likely. As this story was breaking, the leading newspaper in Ghana published a photo of Yankey - one of the named bribe takers - accompanying the president to a meeting of Ghanaians in NY. Surely, they knew the story was about to break, such is their power.

Sargeant said...

Perhaps there is no fire but there is an awful lot of smoke. I was intrigued that the last Gov’t managed to sign two of its largest contracts with an individual (Danos &3S) who was associated with a company which has now been convicted of bribery, and a company (Veco) where the principals were also convicted of bribery.

In more enlightened countries alarms would have been going off and eyebrows would have been raised but in Bim its BAU. PM Thompson said he didn’t believe in Commissions of Inquiry but in forensic audits. Forensic in this case means after the bodies have been interred for a few years they would be dug up in the hope that fingerprints will be available.

To borrow a phrase you will be guilty of “exuberant optimism” if you expect the local papers to offer other than cursory reports on this matter.

I’ve lost hope that things will change

Dennis Jones said...

The approach to possible corruption has been notably lax in Barbados, with a lot of huffing and puffing and little action. I was interested in how the local media looked into the PM's dealings in Dominica. I am also impressed by the way that Jamaica is dealing with its two high profile cases (Kern Spencer/Cuban light bulbs, and now Joe Hibbert/Mabey & Johnson). I think the respective electorates really expect different things and the Bajan voter does not seem to want to exact much of a standard on those who gain their votes.

I've also noted before that one problem about getting involved in borrowing arrangements with the IMF or most IFIs nowadays is their expectation of better standards in public finance (the Fund's business) and the associated affairs (the business of IFI's like the World Bank and of bodies like the European Commission).