One of the first major cases of allegations of corruption in the post independence era in Trinidad and Tobago came to be known as the Gas Station Racket Enquiry (1965).
Evidence given by Jean Miles, a civil servant in the 1960s, implicated the Ministry of Petroleum, Mines, Industry and Commerce in wrong doing in regard to the allocation of gasoline stations to businessmen who were leasing them from the Government. She caused a sensation by alleging corrupt practices by several high-ranking figures.
According to evidence in the enquiry, it is alleged that the government ministry in which Miss Miles worked responded to her testimony with victimization. She was dismissed from the civil service and fought tenaciously for "rights", having on one occasion to be ordered out of the gallery of parliament for interrupting statements made about her.
It is said that Jean Miles was afterwards persecuted and hounded by the powers that be and others, which led to her suffering a nervous breakdown. She became a legend in her own time not solely because of the enquiry, which made her well-known, but because of her colourful and flamboyant character.
She seemed to be full of compassion for the underdog, often taking up causes based on principle and putting herself in the forefront of protest. She always identified strongly with black people. During carnival 1966, which by its demonstrations in favour of "blackness", forecast the black power uprising of 1970, Jean Miles was seen leading a "protest" Jour O'uvert band called Jour O'uvert by Night.
For the Carnival of 1970 she showed her commitment to the masses by singing calypso that season in a calypso tent. Despite her cheerful nature and the side of her character that some called "exhibitionist", it was clear that the social pressures were taking a toll on her. She spent some time at the St. Ann's Mental Hospital and she is reputed to have become an alcoholic. Miss Miles eventually died from a heart attack on December 9, 1972 at her home in Wood brook, Port-of-Spain.
Jean Miles (1930-1972) is a name that has become synonymous with opposition to corruption, and her early death has given her the aura of a martyr.
Here are some of the articles which highlighted the life and times of Jean Miles:
"Millions of Dollars in Gas Deals, Alleges Miss Miles." Trinidad Guardian 22 Jul. 1966
"I'll Expose the Big Plot." Evening News 25 Jul. 1966
"Miss Miles Seeks to Retain Counsel." Trinidad Guardian 26 Jul. 1966
"Now its Tiger Stripes" Trinidad Guardian 29 Jul. 1966
"Jean Miles, a National Tragedy." Express 10 Dec. 1970
De Verteuil, Anthony. The Story of Gene Smile and the Gas Station Racket. Port of Spain: Paria Publishing Co. Ltd., 1981.
Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Gasolene Stations, 1967