Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Editorial | Don’t crow about corruption law

Published:Thursday | February 2, 2017 | 2:00 AM

Andrew Holness deserves credit for being frank. His government, he admitted, was embarrassed into hustling the long-lingering anti-corruption bill through the House because of Jamaica's 14-place downward tumble on Transparency International's (TI) latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI). We are now ranked 83rd among 176 countries.

"It is not a good look," the prime minister told the legislature on Tuesday. "We will be doing everything in our power to ensure that when the next report is released, we have an improved standing."

This newspaper shares Mr Holness's wish. But as the prime minister is well aware, which TI made clear in the 2016 report, legislation of itself is not the cure for corruption. For, in some jurisdictions, "even where anti-corruption laws are on the books, in practice, they are often skirted or ignored".

Jamaicans are well aware of this phenomenon. That Jamaica is perceived to be a highly corrupt country, whose score of 39 on TI's scale of 0-100 marks us among those whose governments the watchdog characterises as "failing to tackle corruption", is not for the want of legislation or anti-corruption institutions.

Indeed, Jamaica has had a Parliamentary Integrity Commission for over 40 years; the Contractor-General, who polices the award and execution of government contracts, has been in existence since the 1980s; the commission that monitors corruption among public sector employees has been around for the better part of two decades. What, broadly, the new legislation will do, is collapse the three bodies into one agency, overseen by a single set of commissioners, which, presumably, should make the anti-corruption process more efficient. The other potential advance of this law is its provision for an independent prosecutor within the new Integrity Commission an area in which Jamaica too often falls short.

So the real question for Mr Holness and his government, as well as for the lame-duck Opposition leader, Portia Simpson Miller, and her presumptive heir, Peter Phillips, is, what will now be different? More to the point, what will they do differently? The question is about action beyond platitudes such as about the independence of the commission, of which we heard much in the debate.

 

MAKE A DIFFERENCE

 

The old laws had that, too. But the agencies were short of the resources with which to credibly do their jobs. More important, they did not have the undergirding of the political will required for their success. This is where Mr Holness of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and Dr Phillips of the People's National Party (PNP) can make a real difference.

Public corruption wastes taxpayers' money, weakens investment, undermines growth, and exacerbates social disparities. Nowhere is its effect so apparent and corrosive than in Jamaica's crisis of criminal violence, whose explosion had its basis in a dysfunctional politics that spawned those zones of political exclusions called garrison communities.

At over 50 per 100,000 of population, Jamaica's homicide rate exceeds, according to University of the West Indies (UWI) social anthropologist Herbert Gayle, "the civil war benchmark of 30 per 100,000". Significantly, Jamaica pushed past that threshold in the bloody election year of 1980, when political tribalism reached its zenith.

There is no single - or easy - solution to this problem of criminal violence. And politics and criminality may not be as mutually embedded as they once were. But the relationships hatched in those times, and reflected in the garrisons, still exist. Extricating their parties from these wasting liaisons are investments that would bring significant societal returns, the leaders would find.