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Jack in the box

By Reginald Dumas

The pre-Christian Greek poet Hesiod wrote among other things about the myth of Pandora, the all-gifted, who was created on the instruction of Zeus the Cloud-Gatherer, the King of Gods and men, and sent to earth with a jar containing all manner of negativity and evil, and some good. Out of curiosity, Pandora opened the jar, allowing the ills to escape and infect humankind; from all appearances, the infections are still with us, and have morphed into severe viruses.

Hesiod's poems were turned into Latin by the15th/16th century Dutch humanist and theologian Erasmus, who mistranslated "jar" as "box". Renderings in other languages have retained the error: we always speak of a "Pandora's box". (Well, you can't get everything right. But Erasmus did give us a saying we still often use: "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king." He certainly got that one right.)

It is the current travails of Ashworth Jack, the Political Leader of the Tobago Organisation of the People (TOP), that drove me back to Greek mythology. The Express asked him about the large house, with swimming-pool, he has put up in Mount St George; how could he have afforded it? In response, Jack (Sunday Express, December 9) said he held several jobs; his family had three businesses; he was receiving a monthly salary of $35,000 as a project manager (Patrick Manning, where are you?) for an unnamed firm; that entire amount went towards the cost of building materials; it was his brother's company, CJ Construction, that had built the house; he had done all the plumbing and electrical work himself; he was a promoter (of what, he didn't say); he was an "astute" financial manager. For good measure, he also earned income from sales of his pumpkins and cucumbers (a statement which caused much merriment across the country, but then, this is the season to be merry). Shadow must re-work his calypso line: there's more than peas to plant in Tobago.

However, Jack said, he didn't own the land on which the house sat; the "final transfer (was) being completed right now," he said. A few days later (Express, December 12), he was singing a somewhat different tune. Now it was that the land had been purchased in 2000 and was "fully paid for." The person from whom he had bought it, Allan Warner, was quoted as saying that he and Jack "(had) arrived at a settlement." Odd. If the Express reports are correct, on December 9 Jack owed $880,000 on the land; on December 12 he owed nothing. Sales of pumpkin and cucumber must be extraordinary. All he has to do to set minds at ease and silence his critics, at least on this point, is produce the relevant receipts and deed as proof of purchase and ownership of the land. That ought not to be difficult. Until he does, I shall have to keep wondering what "settlement" means in this context.

Jack gave some more information in his statement of December 11. Not only had he and his brother kept construction costs down, he had been helped by the old Tobago custom of "len' han'". He was also employed by Phoenix Welding and Fabricating Ltd (a Point Lisas enterprise, according to the TSTT Business Directory). He had worked "extremely hard" to improve himself from "extreme childhood poverty", and the TOP remained committed to the principles of accountability and transparency in public life.

All Jack had to do when approached by the Express was keep the Pandora's box of his mouth closed, or at most open it very slightly. Instead, he threw it wide open. Now questions circle like voracious hawks. What firm pays him $35,000 a month as a project manager? What are the skills and knowledge he possesses in this very specialised field that would justify such a salary? Has he declared his income from all his endeavours to the Inland Revenue? What of NIB deductions by his various employers? Is he a certified plumber and electrician? If not, who issued the final certificates in these two areas?

What is the financial standing of CJ Construction (which I assume is legally registered and pays all its taxes)? If he becomes the THA Chief Secretary, how, bearing in mind his proclaimed fidelity to transparency and accountability, will he treat with a company owned by the brother who has done so much for him and for whom he has worked? When will he make public the documents showing his legal ownership of the land on which his house is built? When will he abide by the law and submit his missing declarations to the Integrity Commission? Why didn't he submit them on time in the first place?

In the last few days new allegations about Jack have been voiced on the political platform concerning improper connections he is said to have to an estate in east Tobago. He must be careful. Those who are in, or seek, public office, and those like him who pursue higher office, must, if they wish to engender confidence, not only be seen to be above board but be so in fact as well. Jack is now facing many queries. If all is on the level, he can have no problem giving satisfactory answers. But, as in the case of the London Administration's Milshirv and Bacolet projects, many of the responses so far provided have merely served to excite more questions. Tobago deserves better than this.

All is not lost, however. After the pestilences had taken advantage of the opened jar to escape into the world, Pandora did manage to get the lid back on. By then, only one element was left in the jar. But it was a very important, very positive element.

It was Hope.

* Reginald Dumas is a former

ambassador and former

head of the Public Service

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