Mon | Sep 23, 2019

Daniel Thwaites | The Pryce of ignorance

Published:Sunday | August 25, 2019 | 12:28 AM
File Retired Colonel Daniel Pryce, executive director of the Integrity Commission.

It would appear as if my offer to buy the homes of the prime minister and opposition leader based on values published by the Integrity Commission has been rejected. Actually, apparently it didn’t go over so well, at least on one side. I live in terror of Juliet’s response, and wonder if she will agree with me, like Mrs Minott-Phillips.

The whole thing is a massive disappointment for me, as you might well imagine. I had already engaged a moving truck and various bredrens had promised to lift and carry. I have a sofa that I just KNOW will be perfect for the living room uppa Beverley Hills. My plan to sip a glass of Chardonnay while watching mi ‘flat-scream’ TV seems more remote by the hour.

But in this life, one has to learn to take disenchantment in stride. My mother told me I could be anything I wanted when I grew up, so I chose to be a disappointment. You see, the key is to reframe disappointing failures as a learning opportunity. So what have we learned?

That the Integrity Commission (IC) is so ingenious that when it uses many terms, they don’t mean what the rest of the country means by those words. That’s how it often is with genius.

Let’s investigate. In the Third Schedule to the Integrity Commission Act, the prescribed form requests ‘Purchase Price’ and then ‘Current Market Price’, meaning that Parliament foolishly acknowledged and passed into the law the notion that these two things are possibly (likely?) different.

Further on, at Section 42 (3) (b) where the prescribed form provides for the ‘Summary of Statutory Declaration’, under ‘Assets’, it lists ‘Saving Accounts’, ‘Current Accounts’, ‘Securities’, ‘Real Estate’, ‘Real Estate Mortgages, Receivables and Business Investments’, and other items. At the bottom of all that is an accrual named ‘Total Assets’.

What the stupid public would not have realised is that ‘Total Assets’ is a special term for the Integrity Commission, and the way they use it is deliberately designed to give no useful information, and to confuse the public.

That’s because whereas ‘Savings Accounts’ and ‘Current Accounts’ will, of necessity, track value in today’s money, we learn that ‘Real Estate’ gives it in dollars as of when the property was purchased, and the price for which it was purchased. Would the figure given for a mortgage, one wonders, be adjusted downward as it is paid off? Or is it also held constant as at the time of acquisition?

MEANINGLESS FIGURES

By this clever and inspired method, ‘Total Assets’ is a completely meaningless figure, a hodgepodge composite of current values and historical values from which nothing much can be ascertained.

This complexity is truly an ingenious device pioneered by Jamaica’s IC to separate the brains from us common everyday fools. By such shrewd devices, they have ensured that extremely few, if any at all, would be able to come to an understanding of the net worth of the politicians. Who says Jamaica can’t be a world leader in innovation when it wants to be?

I, for one, am not surprised that the IC has exotic meanings for ordinary words. Remember that words can take on very specific, and even contrary, meanings in different contexts. For example, a ‘sanction’ can mean both punishment and permission. Thus we can say:

“The Integrity Commission is meant to sanction corruption”, and sit back and smile while deciding how to interpret it.

So why would the IC give a summary in a way that people could understand it? That would be just silly. Far better to make it dense, confusing and liable to misinterpretation. That way, we may use it as a barometer to separate human wheat from chaff.

Now the declarations from the PM and LOO would naturally be the two most watched and scrutinised. Plus, it’s not as if issues closely related to these points hadn’t been the subject of intense public scrutiny, political discussion (some would say ‘demagoguery’), and speculation prior to this.

One object of the IC, after all, was to increase public confidence. And the best way to do that is to abandon them in a fog of misapprehension and ignorance.

So if you stop a country man and ask him, “Weh dat piece ah land ova desso value?”, he will tell you that the piece next door sold for quarter million, so the other piece must be worth about a quarter as well.

That’s because the country man is an idiot. He isn’t an attawney or accountant down at the IC, you see. Because the attawneys and accountants down there understand that the important consideration is how much the owner’s grandfather paid for it back in 1897.

As you can well imagine, being all edumacated an’ ting, I agree wholeheartedly with the commission – 1,347%.

I may be an eediat, but I are not a duncebat enough to believe that the duly constituted commission means something approximating the market value of the real estate when it lists a figure under the heading ‘Asset’.

To give the current value, among other serious evils from which the country would never recover, is “inflationary”. We’ve learned this from the IC’s executive director, Daniel Pryce. And we know from the BOJ that inflation is the great Enemy of the People. And this Great Satan must be resisted on all fronts, chiefly in integrity declarations.

Next problem, per Pryce, is that values are “unverifiable”, which is just too horrid for words. I happen to know that this is also true.

How do I know? Simple. One of my brothers happens to be a professional real estate valuer who studied the accurate valuing of land, homes, commercial properties, and such things at university. As far as I could verify, he was partying all the time and giving those English tarts a hard time. That’s it!

So when banks, building societies, litigants in court, insurance companies, and other individuals pay him money for valuations, I always think to myself, “What jackasses and suckers! Don’t they know valuations are unverifiable? The laugh is on them! Dyammm eediats!”

So if the fair market value of real estate was given by the IC, right where the uneducated dotards would expect it, particularly if it were provided along with the purchase price, the following disasters might occur:

1. The public would understand the integrity declarations.

2. The public would actually see how wealthy the politicians are.

3. The report would capture situations where a contractor builds a house ‘for free’ for a politician.

4. The report would indicate if a house sprang up based on ‘supplier’s credit’ that later just happens to be cancelled or forgiven.

5. The commission might just take up a forensic function whereby assets ostensibly held as shares in a company that are, in fact, real estate holdings, would be reported as what they really are, leaving out the legal mumbo-jumbo and accounting funny tricks that sophisticates use so often to game the system.

We cannot allow such outrages to happen. For one thing, it is evident that the IC believes it was created to ensure the public never has enough, and accurate, information to question the integrity of politicians. They’re doing a fine job of that. For another, it would undermine the case that Bredda Anancy is to be named our eighth national hero, and THAT we cannot have.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.