Mark Wilson #2

The writer is an international journalist based in Port of Spain

Marlene McDonald, you are not the only one. Former cabinet ministers from Jamaica and Barbados are now before the courts. And both cases are looking like a tangled mess.

Before dawn on Wednesday last week, Jamaica’s former education minister, Ruel Reid, was arrested on corruption charges, along with his wife, Sharon, and daughter, Shanelle.

Also held were the president of the Caribbean Maritime University, Fritz Pinnock, who hired Sharon as legal affairs manager, and a local government councillor.

Reid and Pinnock are charged with diverting JA$56 million of public money for their own personal use—that’s close to $3 million. They deny wrongdoing.

They’re out on bail. The next court date is January 23. Almost certainly, this affair will run on and on. There’s a big difference between a politician getting charged and getting convicted. Just ask Basdeo Panday.

Former Barbados industry minister Donville Innis was arrested in the US in August last year on bribery and money laundering charges totalling around $125,000. He says political rivals were “trying to frame him”. He is out on bail, but can’t leave New York and has to wear an ankle bracelet. He’s next due in court on January 6.

His trial had been due to start at the end of this month. Trouble is, a Barbadian senior manager whose evidence is crucial for the prosecution has not agreed to give evidence in New York. It’s not completely clear why. There’s now a request for a video deposition.

There are also problems with the archaic 1929 Prevention of Corruption Act, still in force in Barbados and underpinning the US prosecution case.

This has a requirement for accused offenders to prove their innocence, which may be subject to constitutional challenge. Meanwhile, the maximum penalty is just US$1,250. Updated corruption legislation from 2012 has been passed by parliament, but not yet proclaimed.

Barbados ranks 25th-cleanest of 180 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index—the second-best ranking in Latin American and the Caribbean, after Uruguay.

Barbados may not deserve that nice ranking. Said Attorney General Dale Marshall in April: “We know now how bad corruption is here... we are planning to set up an anti-corruption agency.” He should move fast.

Transparency ranks Jamaica 70th, with T&T at 78th. A reputable opinion poll completed a month ago reported that 73 per cent of Jamaicans think their politicians are definitely involved in corruption. A further 19 per cent said politicians are somewhat involved. So that adds up to 92 per cent.

Besides Ruel Reid, only two Jamaican cabinet ministers have been charged with corruption offences since independence. One of them is Kern Spencer, who was in 2008 charged with irregularities in the distribution of four million Cuban ­energy-saving light bulbs. He was found not guilty.

He now says: “There’s just a general feeling in the public that all politicians are corrupt... It’s like they saying, ‘We ketch one and the good affi suffer for the bad’.”

The other ranking politician charged in Jamaica was a former labour minister, JAG Smith, who was jailed for extracting money from an overseas farm work programme in the 1980s. He was the only one to serve prison time. But few Jamaicans would say he was their only cabinet-level lawbreaker.

Giving Jamaica a clean pass on its economic programme last month, the IMF listed governance as a “deep-rooted societal challenges” which must be addressed if the country is to sustain “resilient and inclusive growth”.

So what’s going to happen?

Ruel Reid is principal of an ultra-prestige school, Kingston ­College, albeit on special leave since his appointment as minister in 2016. He has support.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck was at first sharply critical of last week’s pre-dawn arrests, though he afterwards withdrew his remarks. His daughter, Carolyn, is Reid’s lawyer, although the minister himself has been on leave since 2016 from his family law firm.

Reid resigned in March, at the request of Prime Minister Andrew Holness. The police counter-terrorism and organised crime and financial investigation divisions launched investigations into reports of corruption—although with few details of the allegations made public.

Photos were flashed of Reid’s lavish 2017 birthday party, held on a yacht in Kingston harbour. Key documents went missing; the courts ordered them to be produced.

For pushing through the investigation, the Gleaner gives credit to parliament’s Public Administration and Appropriations Committee. Like the Jamaican parliament’s other oversight committees, it has been chaired since 2008 by an opposition member. When he took office in 2016, Holness tried to put a government supporter back in the chair. That move was blocked.

The Gleaner argues forcefully for the police counter-terrorism and organised crime and ­financial investigation divisions to be made standalone, independent law enforcement agencies. Legislation to that end has been passed; but it is not in force, because nobody has finalised the relevant regulations. The financial investigation division still has no powers of arrest.

Like a good few prime ministers, Holness was elected with promises to fight corruption. He has presided over a good few scandals since—most notably at the Petrojam oil refinery. Jamaica’s next election is due by June 2021.


I hadn’t intended to write a word; my feelings were raw and I felt that everything I could possibly say had already been expressed. I had already begun writing about something else for this column, but I couldn’t do it. I didn’t feel that it was right to let my exhaustion with the ongoing brutality of humankind shunt me away from a principle I hold fast.

EARLIER this week, the Minister of Housing officiated at a ceremony organised by the Housing Development Corporation (HDC) in which 500 lucky would-be homeowners stood to benefit from a random television draw for the allocation of State housing. This was the expected end of the line for at least those persons, some of whom would have submitted applications since who knows how long ago.

I lived in Falcon Heights, Minnesota for most of the 18 years I resided and worked in the state, teaching at the University of Minnesota. I was offered the job there in 1990, and subsequently bought a house. Falcon Heights is a suburb that is equidistant from both Minneapolis and St Paul, the capital, about a ten-minute drive away from both cities. For most of my time there I was the only black person owning a home on my street, and indeed on adjoining streets.

To say that we live in difficult times is to minimise the challenges each and every one of us faces on a daily basis.

From viral pan­demics leading to broken economies which have given rise to a huge number of people struggling to feed their families.

A minority of social media users have voiced dismay that West Indians are fixated on opining about the injustice of George Floyd’s death due to police brutality.

Here in sweet Trinidad and Tobago, we have jumped on the bandwagon and stood up and expressed our diverse views on the ongoing racial tensions in the United States, but I ask us to step back and look at our country.