Sun | Dec 11, 2016

Editorial: PM must lead fight against corruption

Published:Friday | April 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM

What Barack Obama did not say in public, but told CARICOM leaders during their summit in Kingston last week, was that the Caribbean, Jamaica included, has a problem of corruption. It is a point that US officials, usually in less-polite language than employed by the president in Kingston, have been making to their counterparts in bilateral and other meetings.

Jamaicans don't need the Americans to tell them that. Their perception of the country in which they live is that it is corrupt. On Transparency International's (TI) global corruption index for 2014, Jamaica ranked 85 among 175 countries, with a score of 38 - of a possible 100 - where the higher the score, the lower the perception of corruption. Jamaica has hovered at the same score for three years.

A different survey by TI, a year earlier, found that more than eight in 10 Jamaicans believed corruption to be a serious problem. Similar ratios had the same perception of the island's political parties and of its constabulary. Nearly half of the population believed the judiciary and public officials to be corrupt. These findings were largely congruent with those from the Jamaica segment of a project reviewing perceptions of governance in the Americas.

The greater significance of President Obama's observation is the context in which it was fitted - as a matter to be dealt with in enhancing the Caribbean's economic competitiveness, which was a key agenda issue of the summit.

Jamaica, in recent times, has been doing better on this front. In the World Bank's most recent global report on the ease of doing business, Jamaica ranked 58th of 189 countries, while in the World Economic Forum's analysis of global competitiveness, it was 86th of 144. Recent reforms, including tighter fiscal managing, under the island's agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), are largely responsible for the improvements.

Indeed, President Obama congratulated the wisdom of the Government's hard work to meet its IMF obligations, even as he stressed the need to accelerate growth. But as the Americans have been making clear, inducing investment and growth and fighting corruption are not mutually exclusive issues. They are part of the same whole.

Embedded in the fiscal austerity imposed by the Jamaican Government is part of the cost of corruption, which translates to lost, unrecoverable economic opportunity. It is not inconsequential, in the circumstance, that wasteful government spending, insufficient transparency in policymaking and the impact of criminal violence - all potential causes and effects of corruption - are areas in which Jamaica lags on the competitiveness reports. In other words, fighting corruption is a matter on which the Simpson Miller administration must urgently change gear in the battle for improved domestic and global competitiveness.

Hard economic policies apart, the spate of analyses into Singapore's success, in the wake of Lee Kuan Yew's death, arrived at a consistent conclusion - that he ran a clean, uncorrupt, predictable government, in which people could invest with a bankable expectation of returns in jobs, growth and improved living standards.

Prime Minister Simpson Miller promised such an approach to governance, including an intolerance of corruption, when she took office. Her administration has moved to strengthen institutions, but we do not sense that there is an invested, unrestrained champion in the Government in the war against corruption. The PM must suit up and assume the generalship on this front.