Crooks, corruption and conflict

Lester Crooks, the chairman of the Hanover Parish Council, has done the right thing. Eventually! He has resigned from the leadership of the local government authority and is now contemplating his future in the council as a divisional representative.

It is a pity that he didn’t do the decent thing from the start – a failure that will only deepen the perception of public corruption in Jamaica, that was so graphically captured in our public opinion survey published on Sunday.

First, to be absolutely clear, this newspaper has no evidence that Mr. Crooks is, was or has ever been involved in any corrupt practice. Neither do we know that he has in any way broken any of the operating rules of the Hanover Parish Council.

But, as Mr. Crooks would be aware, and why he was prevailed upon by his party to resign, there is great truth in the statement that perception is often as good as reality. And what Mr. Crooks did certainly does not look good. He faced a clear conflict of interest, which he failed to reveal either to his council, his constituents or the central government.

For as we understand it, apart from his job as chairman of the Hanover Parish Council, Mr. Crooks operates a private trucking company, which has haulage contracts, directly or otherwise, with the Spanish Fiesta group for the hotel it is building in Lucea, the capital of Hanover.

Several months ago, Mr. Crooks was at the forefront of agitation for Fiesta to be granted its environmental permits for the hotel projects to go ahead. We assumed that he was only eager for development in his parish. Most people would have arrived at the same conclusion when this mayor of a poor Jamaican parish spearheaded efforts to give a rich foreign transnational company a 20 per cent discount (nearly J$11 million) on its construction permit fees. And perhaps that was his motivation.

Unfortunately, Mr. Crooks, who had conducted business with Fiesta on the public’s behalf, only revealed his private and beneficial relationship with the company a week ago at a council meeting when it was already threatening to become an open affair and cause for discomfort.

This matter must be an embarrassment for Mr. Crooks’ party, the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party, which, at the national level, has consistently attacked central government on the matter of corruption. There are subtle echoes of the Trafigura affair, where the Opposition revealed that a Dutch trading company, Trafigura Beheer, made secret donations to the ruling People’s National Party, channelled to an account that was operated by the PNP’s former General Secretary Colin Campbell.

As with Trafigura Beheer, there seems to us questions for Fiesta to answer, such as whether it was totally oblivious to the potential for conflicts of interest posed by its relationship with Mr. Crooks’ company and if it operated within the Spanish and European Union (EU) laws for EU companies doing business abroad.

But this matter affects not only Fiesta, Mr. Crooks and the JLP. It is a stark reminder that Jamaicans believe that their public institutions are corrupt and the need for strong and moral leadership to effect a change. It is the kind of leadership promised by Prime Minister Simpson Miller, but whose delivery we still await