Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Corruption requires at least two

Published:Friday | December 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM

I am amused at the self-serving political antics of chief Portia Simpson Miller political hack, Senator Lambert Brown. Addressing last Tuesday a meeting of a parliamentary joint select committee reviewing the Integrity Commission, Senator Brown said: "For 41 years, this commission has existed to ferret out corruption but has not been able to find one case. And I believe that politicians are bearing an unfair label of being corrupt, without any evidence to support that, and I don't buy the view that perception is sufficient for me to walk around with a label."

According to Transparency International's 2014 Corruption Perception Index, Jamaica earned only 38 points out of 100 for our anti-corruption efforts. The fact that the Integrity Commission has not prosecuted one case of political corruption in 41 years is part of the reason we rank only 84th out of 174 countries globally.

Declarations of their assets by politicians are made in secret, and the Integrity Commission does not have the resources to verify that the declarations are correct. Politicians of both parties have put arrangements in place to almost guarantee that no case of corruption will ever be made against one of their private club.

If Senator Brown is genuine in his concern about the lack of effectiveness of the Integrity Commission, he should recommend strengthening the legislation to make the declarations public, and to strengthen the investigative capacity of the parliamentary watchdog.

But Lambert Brown is not committed to the anti-corruption effort. He wants the distressing fact that the Integrity Commission has not prosecuted a single case of political corruption in 41 years to be taken as evidence that politicians are not corrupt! It would be hilarious if it wasn't so tragic.

Lambert Brown is a member of the board of the National Housing Trust (NHT) publicly disgraced by the Outameni scandal. The country is in an uproar over the use of NHT funds to bail out both the former owner of the failed tourism attraction (who was about to lose his house), and the financial entity that owned Outameni's debt (which would have lost tens of millions of dollars in the event of a total default). The principals of both entities have intimate People's National Party (PNP) connections.

Elements in civil society and the private sector - and even PNP stalwarts - have made it clear that they believe the actions of the NHT board were not transparent, and may have been contrary to their statutory mandate. Calls for resignations have been made, and all the board members except close allies of the prime minister resigned; Senator Brown did not resign.

Civil society and the private sector called for the remaining members to be fired. The prime minister not only ignored the public outcry, but has rubbed salt in the wound by leaving the tainted members in place, and naming new persons to fill the vacancies.

This has not gone over well. The 51% Coalition (13 women's organisations plus several individuals) and the environmental sector (10 environmental NGOs plus, several individuals, including me) have suspended their participation in the Government's Partnership for Jamaica (PFJ) Initiative, on the grounds that the Partnership agreement (which commits the Government to transparency, accountability and integrity) has been broken.

THE COMPROMISE

Christopher Zacca announced that the private sector has decided not to withdraw from the PFJ, letting the Government off the hook. In a meeting this week with the Government, a "compromise" has been reached where the NHT board will be replaced when its term comes to an end in March next year.

No assurance has been given that the former members who refused to resign - including Senator Lambert Brown - will not be reappointed. Senator Brown could indeed become the new NHT board chairman. Pray tell, how is this a compromise? It sounds to me that what the private sector has agreed to is a total capitulation to the Government's way of thinking.

When Jamaica's post-Independence history is written, Jamaica's private sector is not going to come out looking good. Both political parties could not survive in their corruption without the financial sponsorship of the Jamaica's private sector. It is private-sector money that bought the guns which have armed the political garrisons. It is private-sector political donations that have allowed both political parties to buy votes (like in the recent by-election in Westmoreland), subverting Jamaica's democracy.

It is the private sector that has consistently blocked initiatives at transparency and accountability in campaign finance reform. The private sector is committed to opaque political donations made in secret. If the private sector wanted an end to corruption in Jamaica, it would end.

The refusal of the private sector to withdraw from participation in the PFJ is disappointing, but not surprising.

n Peter Espeut is a sociologist and environmentalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.