Fri | Aug 17, 2018

Mark Wignall | Skimming tip of corruption iceberg

Published:Sunday | June 3, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Assistant Superintendent of Police Victor Barrett inspects a pair of counterfeit Nike sneakers confiscated from a store in downtown Kingston earlier this year. File
Robert Morgan
Pearnel Charles Jr
Pearnel Charles Sr
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Last Tuesday, The Gleaner carried a report about a Jamaican businessman named Shifu Huang, most likely of Chinese extract, being fined $5 million, or eight months' imprisonment, for unlicensed use of trademark.

In 2016, he was first arrested and charged by C-TOC when they found that he had counterfeit items displayed for sale in his store. What was most comical, if not tragic, was he being told by the judge in 2018 to desist from illicit trading or he could end up in prison.

Does that mean that the judge was setting some legal precedent of 'three strikes', or three offences of that type, getting one put away is a settled statute? To me, the general message that could be cynically received by such a warning is: keep getting arrested and allow us to fill the Government's coffers with hard cash.

With the heavy caseload in our courts, it is highly unlikely that the judge was provided with any records to determine how long the man had been trading in illicit goods and the amount he could have earned in doing so before a fine was imposed on him.

There are many businessmen involved in the same illicit trade, and more than quite a few of them would have had quite a laugh over that minuscule $5 million fine. Many of them do quite well for their businesses, importing in bulk and selling genuine and illicit goods, so sales of $5 million per day, if one is ideally positioned in the heart of an urban centre, is chicken feed.

To such businessmen, the heavy caseload in our courts and the large backlog are the gift that keep giving. Members of C-TOC must be commended on this and other work that they are doing, but I assume that the team must know that illicit items cannot end up as part of a store's display by magic.

Was the businessman questioned? Was he asked by what means he got these goods and what were the names of those others who facilitated the shipment? Whether the items were shipped by air or sea, how did it slip through Customs? If duty was actually paid, how were the items described on the shipping manifest?

When a poor Jamaican walks into such a store and sees on display, say, a pair of Clarks sneakers for $3,000 when he knows that the genuine article is better made and hence would probably be at least $12,000, he knows that until his sister in Brooklyn can 'send dung a barrel' with an authentic pair of Clarks, he will be prepared to spend $3,000 while convincing his friends that he is fully decked out in real floss.

To such a person, the store owner is doing him a favour by beating the system, a system that to him, is rigged in favour of the politically powerful protecting the rich, the famous, and the well connected.

Pearnel, my friend, time come

By any metric or even using a cynical and politically biased approach, Pearnel Patroe Charles Sr, speaker of the House, is an extraordinary human being.

I do not know of another politician who has the close family structure that he has, the high level of academic and professional achievement attained by his children, and he doing so at many times against all odds. He has faced gunshots in his young, early days as a union organiser, not a vocation for the puny-minded and coward.

In 1976, he was locked away in the state of emergency purely on the politically tribal terms that the violent discord of the times foisted on a scared nation as the PNP and the JLP used guns, goons, ammunition, fear, and death as their main currency.

Pearnel Charles has faced violence from goons attached to the PNP and the trade unions attached to its cause. Worse, inside his own party, he once faced the sort of vitriol, hate, and violence that one would associate with a political enemy. As an MP, he has seen it all. As a minister of government in the 1980s, he once earned the trust, love, and admiration of the people.

As a 'youngster' in his more active days, he, more than most, will remember that he was also among a batch of Young Turks fighting for change, new space, and ideas more suited to the times than those long laid out by the 'oldsters' of his young days.

It is on that broad basis that I must implore my friend that it is time to make a decision on succession planning in his North Central Clarendon seat.

 

Robert Nesta Morgan is a natural upstart

 

Robert Nesta Morgan, the director of communications in the OPM, and Senator Pearnel Charles Jr, an attorney-at-law and state minister, would both like the opportunity to get elected in North Central Clarendon when the elder Charles resigns.

Pearnel Sr may have an enduring belief that he has paid much more than his dues, and if he decides that 'Junior' is to secure the seat by the passage of royal proclamation, so be it. After all, he is not just your everyday politician. How many others have written so many books?

Morgan hails from the constituency and he is in no mood for waiting outside the back door of the palace. Charles Jr, Morgan, and whoever may choose to put up himself/herself for a selection in the seat (when the time comes), must all abide by the rules governing that first part of the process to becoming an MP.

The constituency of North Central Clarendon is mainly farming oriented, and its employment profile has hardly changed over the last 25 years. What Pearnel Charles Sr has not done in the past and present will offer the same options to either his son or some other political upstart.

 

Politics of old versus young

 

It is usually believed that the most intense verbal battles in a party politics are those that take place between opposing candidates from different parties. Not true in the least.

The basic human political animal is like a panther, just lurking in the dark, ready to strike. Most of the times, his own worst enemy lies within the fold. When the JLP was making its decision on Holness/Shaw a few years ago, some of the best of the unfortunate 'hate' was directed by those supporting the Shaw camp against Holness.

At the same time, those supporting Holness went into the nasty political playbook to regurgitate all of the terrible things they could exhume about Shaw. That is simply how politics is played out here and just about in every global spot where facades of democracy exist.

Now that Holness has just about consolidated power inside of his own party (apart from the next bomb to be thrown by Warmington), it is normal that he should want to place his loyalists in the best, sweet spots of politics. He is, after all, the prime minister, and the power that a PM in Jamaica wields is close to dictatorial.

In Pearnel Jr vs Nesta Morgan, who would be the PM's choice? Someone whose first loyalty would be to Holness, or another who would want to go off on political adventures without the directorial supervision of Holness?

The race and the fervour for now is healthy for our democracy, and it provides good fodder, excellent fodder, for our cartoonists. In the end, most politicians fade away like heavyweight boxers past their prime.

Pearnel Sr is probably the fittest man his age that I know. But, time come, and the young rebels by now must have found their cause to meet the energy flowing in their minds and the vigour of their bodies.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-sector commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and observemark@gmail.com.