Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Criminalising corruption

Published:Friday | May 1, 2015 | 5:00 AM

Let me ask you a question: If you were a politician and a legislator, would you pass laws to criminalise corrupt behaviour of politicians and legislators? Clearly, you wouldn't if you were corrupt.

But if you were a clean and principled politician-legislator committed to transparency and accountability, you would be dedicated to ensuring that adequate checks and balances are in place to detect and prosecute political malfeasance.

In Jamaica, nepotism and conflict of interest are officially frowned upon, and may even be forbidden by non-binding guidelines and procedural rules. But as we have learnt recently, our parliamentarians have passed no law against nepotism and conflict of interest among themselves; which redounds to their benefit, for when they are caught red-handed, they will easily escape prosecution, for neither nepotism nor conflict of interest is a crime. They, the legislators, have made sure of that.

And even though there are clear procurement guidelines intended to prevent the award of contracts to connected parties, politicians (of both parties) have made sure that breaching them is not a criminal offence. When calls for resignations are made, the claim can always be that those who break the rules don't have to resign because they broke no law. But then, they, the lawmakers, made sure that their malfeasance was not criminalised.

I have been making this point in this column for more than two decades, but there has been no move to criminalise political corruption or bring it to an end. I don't believe politicians of either tribe want to!

 

illegal holiday

 

It reminds me about a certain prime minister who broke the law by illegally declaring a public holiday. Only a prime minister could break that law, since only a prime minister could attempt to declare a public holiday; but the drafters of the law did not intend to penalise any prime minister for breaking it, for they prescribed no penalty.

By purposely not criminalising nepotism, conflict of interest, and other forms of political malfeasance, it is quite clear what kind of society Jamaican politicians of all stripes wish to engineer.

It is all well and good to be dedicated to upholding the rule of law; but when corrupt lawmakers craft laws (or avoid making laws) such that corruption is facilitated, it brings the law itself into disrepute. It is all too common that the contractor general discovers breaches in contracting procedure by government officials, yet the director of public prosecutions fails to prefer charges because lawmakers have failed to make their own breaches criminal offences.

This behaviour is quite hypocritical, because when passing legislation to criminalise the behaviour of ordinary citizens, great care is taken to ensure that all the loopholes are plugged - to make our shackles as tight as possible.

Such care is being taken to investigate the sources of funding of civil-society organisations - especially those which harass the Government over human rights and environmental issues - while continuing to cloak donors to political parties in secrecy. And the soon-to-come legislation intended to reform political financing contains so many large loopholes as to be ineffective.

 

personal interest

 

 

in corruption

 

I continue to call "fie!" upon the so-called National Integrity Action for supporting these so-called reforms, which will continue to facilitate corruption, and will, in fact, envelop it in legality.

Many politicians have a personal interest in corruption. Many, I'm sure, would have no interest in entering politics if it didn't carry with it the promise of getting rich off scarce benefits and spoils. And so, I have little hope that there will be any real action towards integrity anytime soon.

What action would I like to see? I would like political corruption to be criminalised. I would like to see nepotism and conflict of interest attract fines and prison time, and convicted persons barred from ever holding public office again.

I would like to see all contributions to political parties made public, with the names of the donors available for public scrutiny on an easily accessible website (with no password); that is how it is done in countries which rank high in transparency and accountability. This would include donations to affiliated and related entities, such as campaign committees, 'Friends of ... ' committees, and campaign managers. Failure to declare all such donations should result in heavy fines, forfeitures, exposure, and disqualifications.

If a person or company makes an honest contribution, with no expectation of political favour in return, why would either object to transparency? Such a donor should be proud to be associated with that party. If the donor objects, maybe they have something to hide.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and social commentator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.