Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Tuesday | October 13, 2009
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EDITORIAL - The Mike Henry-Bindley Sangster muddle

Mike Henry's efficacy at parsing words may not have reached the heights of Bill Clinton's classic offering of the various connotation of "is" during the Lewinsky affair.

But Mr Henry is certainly in the top tier of parsers, as is exemplified in the definition of the job of Bindley Sangster, an affable man and kindly soul, who is political adviser to the transport minister and MP for Central Clarendon.

Mr Sangster used to be a member of the board of directors of the Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC), the state-owned bus company that falls within Mr Henry's portfolio.

When Douglas Chambers, the then JUTC executive chairman, was shot dead at the gates of the company's headquarters in Spanish Town early last year, Mr Sangster took over as acting managing director. He, however, was forced to step down on the face of a claim by the contractor general, Greg Christie, that he was lied to by Mr Sangster during an investigation by the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) into some of the late Mr Chambers' activities at the JUTC.

Making misleading statements to the OCG during the course of an investigation is a criminal offence. So, Mr Christie sent his findings to the director of public prosecutions and the police for them to determine whether further action was warranted. It remains unclear how these agencies will proceed.

In the meantime, Mr Sangster is now Mr Henry's political adviser, operating from the latter's ministerial office although Mr Henry makes clear that Mr Sangster is not paid by the Jamaican Government.

The issue, though, is that, as this newspaper reported, Mr Sangster, who is not paid from the public purse, operates from Mr Henry's ministerial offices - not from the MP's constituency in May Pen, Clarendon.

Mr Henry sees nothing wrong with this. "He (Mr Sangster) is not helping the MP, he is helping the minister," he says.

Clearly, Mr Henry is fully aware of his political parts. And in this circumstance a political aide to the minister, operating in his ministerial role, is paid not by the Government, but, presumably, by private sources.

Legitimate questions

There are people who would advise Mr Henry that such a situation is fraught with danger and runs counter to good order. Indeed, there are legitimate questions about the influence attendant to the advice given to a minister by an adviser who is not paid by the State, but by a source that is not clearly transparent, or obviously disinterested. Although, to be fair, the job is partially subsidised by taxpayers - the cost of Mr Sangster's office space and other government resources he might use on the job.

But perhaps Mr Henry's concept of such things is framed by his perception of Mr Sangster's role in a hypothetical case he offered of the adviser doing his job: "I am in May Pen watching a football match, he brings the files home from the ministry for the day's work and I read the files and if there is something I have to ask him to follow up, he does it for me."

Now, here is good reason, we suggest to Prime Minister Golding, for a clear and transparent policy on ministerial advisers, including how they ought to be paid.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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