Taking action at the 11th hour
In a few week's time, in December, the authoritative 2015 global Corruption Perception Index (CPI), reflecting expert opinion of public-sector corruption in counties around the world, will be published. It is the eleventh hour, but there is still time for Jamaica to improve and not to be stuck at a score of 38 out of 100 as was the case in the CPI 2014. It is necessary and possible to get out of the rut where we have been, along with the majority of countries, over the last many years.
Our CARICOM neighbour St Vincent and the Grenadines has demonstrated one way to move forward. In 2014, St Vincent was one of only three countries out of 175 on the CPI which improved its score by five points over 2013. The Vincentian authorities did two things: one, significantly improved transparency by publishing who received government contracts, for what purpose, for how much money and the time span of the contract. Second, the impunity of the high ranking was significantly challenged when the registrar of the High Court was investigated, prosecuted and had to plead guilty for corruption-related offences.
We, in Jamaica, like in so many other countries, talk tough against the corrupt and against corruption. Successive prime ministers, during their inaugural addresses, declared the elimination of corruption as top priority. Election manifestos, such as that of the Peoples' National Party in 2011, commit to "Lead in the fight against corruption by example". Ministry papers, such as the New National Security Policy, laid in Parliament in April 2014, declare corruption as a number one "clear and present danger" and threat to national security and economic prosperity. Our private sector, in a submission to Parliament in 2012 called, among other things, for the "visible imposition of criminal sanction (including jail time) against large tax evaders".
These words are good; actions would be even better. At one level, the Jamaican people themselves have taken action. In 2006, 36 per cent of our people paid a bribe for a public service - well above the global average. By 2014, that percentage had fallen to 9.8, well below the global average of 27 per cent and in the top six of 20 countries surveyed in the western hemisphere (Latin American Public Opinion Project-LAPOP, 2014).
At the same time, it is not only the experts who construct the global CPI who perceive significant corruption amongst Jamaican authorities. It is our own people as well. On a scale of 0-100 (where 100 is the most corrupt), Jamaicans rate Jamaica at 78.1, largely because of the perception of corruption in high places. In a Don Anderson national survey commissioned by National Integrity Action in 2014, only four per cent of Jamaicans viewed Government's leadership of the anti-corruption drive as very effective/strong.
The apparently reduced imminence of elections allows our Government and parliamentarians the opportunity to close the action deficit, thereby strengthening Jamaica's capacity to deal with corruption and giving our people, as well as international partners, a sign that we are getting more serious.
Towards this end, two things must be urgently done. One, the consensus amendments to the Representation of People Act (ROPA) to regulate campaign finance, now before the Parliament since October 27, must be debated and passed. Two, the report from the Joint Select Committee, which has concluded its deliberations on the Integrity Commission Act, must be speedily tabled, debated and passed into law. After six years of start, stop and start again to establish a special prosecutor for corruption, it is time for this office to be set up.
Neither of these measures, separately or together, shall be a panacea to end grand corruption. They will, however, represent two significant actions to complement the thousands of words, scores of speeches and dozens of declarations against corruption. It may already be too late, but quick action may just about improve Jamaica's 2015 score and rank on the CPI. More importantly, it may help to give our people some confidence that the authorities are, at last, actually taking some steps to deal more effectively with corruption.
- Professor Trevor Munroe is executive director, National Integrity Action. Email feedback to email@example.com.