A family affair

Shernet Haughton as Mayor of the Lucea and Councilor for the Green Island Division had at her disposal sums from the Local Government Ministry and the Parochial Revenue Road Programme amounting to $29M for the award of contracts in the Hanover parish council. (These funds covered the period March 2012 and July 2012 to December 2013.)

She, according to the Office of the Contractor General recommended 11 of her family members and affiliates for 22 contracts in Hanover for various works.

Contracts were awarded to her spouse, daughter, son, brother, sister, niece, sister in law, brother in law as well as the contractor who worked on her house. The total sums paid to these family members by the Hanover parish council was a combined total of approximately $3.7M – a total of 12% of the money available to her.

The practice in the parish council has been that the Councilor (in this case the Mayor being the Councilor) recommends the contractor to the Secretary Manager and as a matter of course there is no investigation as to the bona fides of this contractor. So a recommendation is tantamount to an award.

The administrative head of the parish council, the Secretary Manager says she did not know that any of the persons recommended by Shernet Haughton was a family member of Miss Haughton.

Nepotism is defined as the bestowal of official favors on one’s relatives, especially in hiring. Nepotism is the crucible for corruption. It is conduct that is to be frowned upon and should receive the highest public condemnation and disapproval. The shame that is to be poured on someone who engages in nepotism should be greater than that brought by the shame of a criminal sanction.

Nepotism is the friend of conflict of interest. Conflict of interest is proscribed by the Government of Jamaica Handbook of Public Sector Procurement Procedures. That book states that a conflict of interest will arise when the individual has a direct or indirect relationship with a contractor which may affect or might reasonably be deemed by others to affect impartiality on any matters related to his duties.

What Shernet Haughton did in recommending her family and affiliates for 12% of her allotted parish council money was a conflict of interest. She recommended family members and affiliates without declaring to the administrative branch of the parish council that interest.

I am shocked that there appears to be no law in Jamaica – neither statute or common law that can criminalize a conduct that is so offensive to good governance, so offensive to the taste of right thinking people in a developing democracy, so offensive to integrity of public offensive … just so offensive full stop.

You see it is nepotism that gives rise to the thinking that it is who you know that should get the jobs available. It excludes the capable and distant majority in favour of the incapable and close minority.

Where criminal sanction does not exist, the public clamor for decency in public office is to be at its loudest. Miss Haughton might not be prevailed upon to resign her seat but she should be prevailed upon to begin restoring decency and accountability in public office.

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About emilyshields

Attorney-at-Law, Partner -Gifford Thompson & Shields; Broadcast Journalist; Host of RJR's Hotline - www.rjr94fm.com; Gunner Twitter- @emilymshields
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