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Jaevion Nelson | Holness should make anti-corruption a legacy

Published:Thursday | December 15, 2016 | 12:00 AM

Corruption, waste and inefficiency seem to continue unabated in this country. Consequently, efforts to develop our country and achieve greater economic independence are stymied. Sadly, not many of us pay keen attention, as much as we ought to, to these matters, and too many of us excuse it as a means to an end in an already cruel and corrupt country where everyone must fend for themselves and family.

If the deafening silence, the dearth of discourse relating to the matter a week ago, on December 9, which is observed as the International Anti-Corruption Day is anything to go by, then we are in serious trouble.

Did you know that the Government spent over $6 billion between 2009 and 2012 to finance the cost of overpayments, unsupported payments, unremitted deductions, unapproved payments and losses and fraud? One wonders why we do not exercise greater vigilance where public spending is concerned given the scarcity of resources that are available for our clinics, hospitals and schools or to repair roads which continue to damage our vehicles.

The Jamaica Civil Society Forum (JCSF) and Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) research, which found that a staggering J$6,292,093,184 in breaches were identified between 2009 and 2012, illustrates the urgency and critical need for this persistent problem to be addressed. This figure is a little over the total disbursement to the country's 400,000 recipients of PATH and is about five times the total allocation to the Ministry of Education in the 2016/2017 financial year. Where does a poor country like ours find money to waste? Regret-tably, our limited attention span is the death knell of our responsibility to hold the government accountable and ensure good governance.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness would leave a lasting legacy if he were to pursue a range of measures that will result in less waste, corruption and inefficiency in government. Achieving 5 per cent growth in the next four years hinges on this.

 

PLATFORM POLICIES

 

The establishment and recent launch of the Economic Growth Council (EGC), which is chaired by Michael Lee-Chin, is rather intriguing. According to a release from the Office of the Prime Minister on September 14, 2016, the EGC is expected to advise the Cabinet on a collection of broad platform policies and reforms that would facilitate economic growth. These growth initiatives are intended to facilitate the removal of various obstacles to economic growth and shake the "trunk of the tree with the potential to positively impact thousands of businesses and millions of Jamaicans".

The ambition "to mobilise energies around the goal of elevating our growth experience, above baseline projections, to 5 per cent annual GDP growth in four years" is most welcomed. I am most hopeful about its successes as it seeks to maintain macro-economic stability and pursue debt reduction strategies, improve citizen security and access to finance, reduce bureaucracy, build human capital, stimulate greater asset utilisation, harness the power of the diaspora and catalyse the implementation of strategic projects.

I note and am elated that the EGC's Call to Action makes mention of the fact that growth and development hinge on, among other things, reducing corruption, bureaucracy, waste and inefficiency. This is so important because if these aren't addressed we will continue to see anaemic growth and scarcity in the resources that are available to fund health care, social services, and education, among other things. The JCSF/CVC Report outlines a range of measures, including 'reviewing and amending the legislation that governs the public bodies to ensure a clear line of sight between a breach on the part of the public official and holding them to account' that are particularly urgent and should be championed by the EGC.

Thankfully, though the challenges related to waste, corruption, inefficiency, etc., seem insurmountable, these are issues we have been discussing and making recommendations, but have not done as much as we should. As Ambassador Dr Nigel Clarke, deputy chairman of the EGC, has said, "...the solutions to Jamaica's problems are not unknown. They lie in copious reports, studies, commission findings, ministry papers, and executive plans that lie in the 'filing cabinets of government'."

It's important that we see this issue as an imperative that we cannot afford to ignore and commit to addressing in all spheres of life, if we are indeed serious about growing the economy by 5 per cent in the next four years. Make anti-corruption a legacy of this administration.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.