Grass seems greener on the other side
They say that the grass is always greener on the other side, and that is particularly the case when the adjacent property is owned by Minister Karl Samuda. It emerged last week that the agricultural minister’s farm was benefiting from an initiative of the State-owned Jamaica Dairy Development Board (JDDB). The programme was to promote the introduction of Mombasa grass to replace the invasive species piano grass. The issue is that we have a minister that seems to not understand that directly benefiting from the trial is a conflict of interest.
Samuda says he offered to pay for the trials on his farm, but maintained that the acting chief executive officer of the JDDB, Bryon Lawrence, insisted otherwise. It could leave one wondering what kind of grass indeed was being offered.
The minister eventually repaid $546,000 for the grass, saying that he now felt more “comfortable”. The fact that he is able to categorise himself at ease indicates that he is missing the entire point. For a government member to benefit from a State initiative raises questions.
Further illustrating the point that he does not grasp why he is wrong, the minister was quoted as saying, “ I don’t beg Government for nutten. I’ve come this far, and at my stage of life I don’t have to beg anybody! Thank God! I don’t want nuh freeness from unuh!” How can the minister think the question at hand is whether or not he is begging freeness?
Among the many questions will be how can we have someone in power who seems confused as to why this might be wrong? Moreover, what are the tangible consequences for such behaviour?
Puzzlingly, the only remorse that Samuda has expressed is that he wishes he had got the exchange with himself and Bryon Lawrence in writing. He appears not to realise that, regardless of whether it was written, spoken, or sung, he is speaking the language of muddy waters.
The bottom line is that, even if done at the insistence of a State-owned board, for a government official to personally benefit from a State initiative smacks of jobbery. And, when pointed out, Samuda sought to involve People’s National Party Noel Arscott, who denied having received 30 hectares as his farm is not even that big. Just as Eve was held responsible for accepting the apple, so too should Samuda be held responsible for accepting the grass. Although I don’t think anyone would refer to our Parliament as Eden. Perhaps just as Eve was expelled from the garden, such consequences should be considered for the minister.
Crying over spilt milk
The controversy has Samuda crying over spilt milk in a fashion similar to a certain president. He appeared to be shocked that the media would want to see evidence, in writing, commenting that, “But the world in which we live — it seems that that is what the media especially love.” This sounded shockingly similar to the comments US President Donald Trump has made recently about the media. Trump was similarly quoted as saying, “No politician, in history, has been treated worse or more unfairly,” which he expressed with great “surety”. Considering the similarities, perhaps Samuda should reconsider making his slogan “Make Jamaica Great Again”.
The similarities between Trump and Samuda continue to grow after a conflict emerged between himself and accusations by Opposition Member of Parliament Dr Dayton Campbell. He accused Samuda of firing chief executive officer of the JDDB, Hugh Graham, over disagreements. Though the details have not been confirmed, and the allegations defended, the circumstances would bear a concerning similarity to Trump firing the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation James Comey. Comey was investigating Russia’s involvement in the US election, an investigation that the president allegedly asked him to discontinue. If the United States wants to hear the Comey tapes, we want to hear the Hugh Graham equivalent.
In continuing Trump-like fashion, Samuda reportedly retaliated by referring to Dayton Campbell as manure. Continuing on to say, “The Member of Parliament for North West St Ann carved out a niche of total fabrication to assault my good character...” And, to top it off, he said, “ It doesn’t matter from whence you come. Just don’t bring your nasty ways with you. Just don’t bring your lies and your filthy distortions with you, but be prepared to come and hold hands with decent people to move the country forward.” Not only are the comments inappropriate between any two humans, there are implications here, especially since it is widely known that Campbell’s mother worked as a helper and his father has been incarcerated. Campbell responded on his Facebook page with, “Not because you a plantation owner and me a poor black country boy you are not better than I.”
The minister has said that he is “more than upset” about the controversy. To ease his discomfort may we suggest that he light some incense as he “rises above it”, as suggested by his legal advice. He is quoted in The Gleaner as saying, “Mrs Reid, our legal officer, said something in the elevator to me. She said I must rise above it and forget it. That’s a good idea. I am going to forget it.” May I just add that forgetting about it is exactly what the prime minister of England suggested we do about slavery on his last visit to Jamaica.
I have a few questions for the minister. He may consider answering them while gazing out on the serene view which we are sure his now beautifully grassed farm offers: Seeing MPs are allowed to do business with the Government once it has been approved by the House, did he gain the necessary approval before this went forward? The Parliament (Integrity of Members) Act requires MPs to declare their business interests yearly. Since the parliamentary clerk cannot reveal personal information, could the minister kindly inform us if this past March he declared the farm as part of his business interests. The whole situation opens up the nation to have a larger conversation on conflicts of interest, if and when they exist.
Grass seems greener on the other side