Yesterday the biggest news to rock our small island was the slap of criminal charges on one of our youngest and most promising politicians – former Energy State Minister – and current Member of Parliament, Kern Spencer. Kern at age 33 was slapped with 7 charges:
- Three counts of conspiracy to defraud:
- Breach of Section 14 (1) of the Prevention of Corruption Act, which addresses the role of government officials.
- Money laundering offences: concealing and disguising criminal property (US$37, 836.65); transferring criminal property from Jamaica (US64, 576.50); engaging in a transaction with criminal property.
According to the Jamaica Gleaner reports, charged along with Spencer are Rodney Chin and Coleen Wright. Chin, a close associate of Spencer is facing two counts of conspiracy to defraud and two counts of breaches of the Prevention of Corruption Act. Wright, Spencer’s personal assistant, is also faced with 7 charges; two counts of conspiracy to defraud, one for breaching the Prevention of Corruption Act, and four money-laundering offences.
The charges slapped on the former State Minister, are as a result of the gross mismanagement that was discovered after a project involving the distribution of 4 million Free Cuban light bulbs resulted in $276 million in expenditure. The alert was made by the new energy minister Clive Mullings.
Now, what are the implications for these charges? And why am I so interested in this situation? Well, firstly, if convicted Kern could face up to 5 years in prison and millions of dollars in fines. This is interesting because it’s very rare that a Jamaican politician is held accountable for any of his atrocities. And it is arguable that had the PNP remained in power (they lost the general election after 18 years in power in September 2007); this gross mismanagement and now criminal involvement would never have come to light. So we are now forced to wonder, how many of these acts of blatant theft and gross mismanagement of funds have gone undiscovered? The truth is that we may never know!
This is interesting news to the Inmate Diaries blog because there is the general perception in Jamaica that the only persons in prison are those born and bred in poverty, lacking in education, social graces and whatever other tools necessary to put them on the plane to meaningful and purposeful activities. This is not so! Jamaican prisons, like any other prisons, have inmates from all differing backgrounds – individuals born in affluence and those in poverty. Therefore, this dispels the myth that only poor people commit crimes.
This is the issues that S.E.T Inmate Diaries would like to address. In telling the inmate’s stories, we hope to get a better understanding of what are the motivating factors behind crime. What is it that compels two completely different individuals from two starkly different backgrounds to commit an identical crime?
I certainly don’t have the answer but when I listen to stories of desperate inmates who steal because they have no idea where their next meal is coming from, or how they will provide for their children and then juxtapose this with a well paid professional who steals despite enjoying all the luxuries of life and more, I am baffled by human actions. So, I am hoping that our project provides me with some answers.
I must add that I am gravely disappointed in Kern Spencer. For me and a many other young Jamaicans, this 33 year old was a vibrant and well respected politician who was destined for a great future. We felt that as our representative, he understood and expressed the new ideas, dynamism and growth in Jamaica politics. It is sad that he has allowed himself to be corrupted. It makes us wonder, is there any hope left?
I am also concerned as a Jamaican citizen at how this young man is seemingly a sacrificial lamb for the People’s National Party. It must be remembered that he was only a State Minister, thus he reported to a senior minister. Furthermore, how did he come to have access to the disposal of such large sums of funding without the need to provide accountability to someone? I wonder if the doctrine of ministerial responsibility still applies. Why have we heard nothing from the senior minister involved? And what of those that should have been monitoring the purse strings?
I am in no position to provide answers for any of these questions. Furthermore this is now an issue before the courts. However, this reminds me of the situation of a lot of inmates who are now behind bars. They alone are not accountability for their crimes. In fact many are “small fries” and are bearing sentences as sacrificial lambs for many prominent individuals who now enjoy unbridled freedom. As a student of law, I must say that I am deeply concerned for our justice system and while I agree that if found guilty, Kern should be punished as the law dictates…I cringe to think that this is merely a reflection of the situation in most of our prisons where the real mastermind is never caught!
So Kern is forced to spend at least two nights in lock up as his case will be mentioned Thursday, where he will possibly receive bail. I wonder, how does he now feel about inamtes and prison and would he be willing to tell of his experience behind bars?