Burke under fire
BURKE… I am making no comment
Angry Comrades levelled a blistering attack on Paul Burke yesterday, demanding that he apologise to Dr Omar Davies as the campaign funding scandal engulfing the Opposition People’s National Party (PNP) continued to inflame passions.
But Burke, the embattled PNP general secretary, said he was ignoring the demand from the executive of the party’s organisation in St Andrew Southern, the constituency represented by Dr Davies in Parliament.
The executive, in a terse statement, said that it “denounces the utterly shameful unsubstantiated attack on Dr Davies by the general secretary of the party”, and called on Burke to “withdraw it immediately and unreservedly, accompanied by an appropriate apology”.
The statement came two days after Dr Davies said Burke implicated him in “reckless and unsubstantiated” statements alluding to millions of US dollars collected from a Chinese firm and which should have been handed over to the party.
Dr Davies, in a letter to Burke which he also released to the media, demanded that the general secretary lay out all the facts at his disposal in connection with the matter, adding, “I have the right to make this demand of you as my own integrity is being questioned as a result of your unsubstantiated utterances.”
He also told Burke that he should disclose the information he has, not only within the party’s structure, but also to the wider public.
Dr Davies said that several Comrades had reported to him that at a meeting of the PNP’s National Executive Council (NEC) held a few months ago, Burke stated that the party’s efforts in the February 25, 2016 General Election were hampered by inadequate financing, as some senior members had not passed on funds from donors to the central treasury.
“I was informed that you went on to state explicitly that you had learnt that it is an established practice for large Chinese firms to pay an ‘agent’s fee’, ranging from one per cent to 1.5 per cent of the total project cost. You claimed that it was customary that the ‘agent’ would be named by the minister with portfolio responsibility for the relevant sector,” Dr Davies stated.
“You then specifically alluded to a particular large project which was being implemented and asserted that, based on the level of expenditure on that project, the ‘agent’s fee’ would have amounted to between US$10 million and US$12 million. The link which you sought to establish to the PNP’s campaign financing was that a significant percentage of this amount should have been turned over to the party,” Davies told Burke.
He said that, while Burke gave no names, “many persons left the meeting with the clear impression that, within the construct which you had outlined, I was the minister who had recommended the agent to the Chinese firm”.
The former works minister stated that he had never been approached by any firm with respect to an agent’s fee, nor had he recommended anyone to act as their agent on any project.
“I have no knowledge of any fees or other payment which should have been turned over to the party’s treasury. I have not collected any contribution, either for my own constituency campaign, or for the PNP’s national campaign, from any Chinese company, construction or otherwise,” the outgoing MP and veteran Comrade contended.
Yesterday, the St Andrew Southern constituency executive expressed “firm and unequivocal support” for Dr Davies, and said that he has given committed public service to the constituency, the PNP, and Jamaica with “an unblemished record of integrity”.
When the Jamaica Observer contacted Burke for a response, he said that he would not address the statements made by Dr Davies or his constituency executive. “I have read it, and I am ignoring it. I am making no comment,” a guarded Burke said.
The scandal erupted on August 22 when media houses received a copy of PNP Treasurer Norman Horne’s report to the NEC meeting in July accusing candidates in the election of not remitting campaign donations.
Horne said that prior to February 17 when the party communicated its decision not to participate in three planned national debates, the treasury’s greatest competition in the marketplace was party members who held senior positions in Government.
“These persons were actively in the market for what seemed to be [the] sole benefit of their personal campaigns and collected significant amounts from members of the private sector who were earmarked by the treasury as potential substantial donors for the benefit of the PNP as one cohesive unit,” he wrote.
“On numerous occasions, information received by the treasury from the potential donors was that contributions had already been made to senior party members for the benefit of the party. However, only a few members reported or accounted in full, or even in part, for the receipt of these donations to the treasury or the party executive,” Horne said.
“This heavily affected the party’s income and short-changed the party, resulting in a negative effect on the national campaign. Financially speaking, there was not one central bank, but several banks, some of which had more resources than the treasury,” Horne said in his report.
Yesterday, Dr Karl Blythe, who is challenging Portia Simpson Miller for the PNP presidency, waded into the controversy, advising his fellow Comrades to “seek legal advice before they open their mouths further or release public statements”.