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Editorial: Who’s the general in anti-corruption war?

Published:Wednesday | March 11, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Although not a military strategist, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller will appreciate that in battle, victory is not always assured by superiority of numbers. What is often just as important is the tactical application of the troops and the will of the fighters, which tend to reflect the quality of the generalship.

The same is largely true in the fight against corruption, about which a three-day conference, organised by the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), is taking place in Kingston, at which the governor general, Sir Patrick Allen, spoke on Monday. Interestingly, Sir Patrick invoked the metaphor of war.

"I daresay," he said, "that corruption is the cause of the day, and I would like to stand by the person or persons who are prepared to be bloodied in that fight."

Sir Patrick's characterisation of the nature of this fight and the likely tenacity of the people who would struggle for the status quo is apt. For while the social and economic cost of corruption in Jamaica has not been specifically quantified, it is hardly debatable that it costs dearly: in excessive bureaucracy, wasted time, low levels of trust, stolen resources, criminal violence, and, ultimately, stifled growth. All of this contributes to the country's underdevelopment.

 

systemic corruption

 

Or, as Sir Patrick put it, systemic corruption results in some people being "high-rollers and others no-rollers".

This brings us back to the matter of generalship, or more appropriately in this context, of Prime Minister Simpson Miller, on whose behalf the attorney general, Patrick Atkinson, delivered a message to the conference.

At the start of her administration, she promised to be intolerant of corruption. Most Jamaicans don't believe she has delivered on that undertaking. Nearly 80 per cent believe that the legislature and other political institutions are corrupt, and nearly half have that view of the judiciary. Indeed, Jamaica continues to hover in the mid-range on the global Corruption Perception Index, with a score of 35 out of a possible 100 and ranked 83 out of 175 countries.

This is despite the prime minister's assertion on Monday that her Government was strengthening and expanding the institutional arrangements for fighting corruption. In the past three years, it has passed, or brought to Parliament, seven important anti-corruption bills, including one now before the legislature to subsume the OCG and the separate commissions that police the integrity of parliamentarians and public servants. It is to have its own independent prosecutor.

 

generals needed

 

This newspaper does not doubt the sincerity of the prime minister's intent, either now or at the time of her inaugural address more than three years ago. As good generals know, and we repeat, the turn of battle is not always dependent on the number of troops or the bits of legislation taken to Parliament, or even passed into law.

The point here is that we do not believe that Jamaica has made as much headway in the battle against corruption because of the perception that no one has taken on generalship of the war, in the sense of making it a crusade. As the country's leader, it is Prime Minister Simpson Miller's job to be fully internalised, taken into her politics, party and institutions of the State.

When there is this perception of the PM's attitude, people will believe her declaration that "we are in this fight against fraud and corruption together".