Editorial | Facing the grief of corruption
This week, Andrew Holness acknowledged the crisis of corruption that engulfs Jamaica.
"There is no denying," the prime minister told Parliament, "that whilst we have made significant strides as a politically independent country, we could have achieved much more were it not for corruption in many forms - revenue leakage due to corrupt practices; misuse of public funds; and the overall perception of pervasive corruption - all of which have served to compromise the flow of investment into our country."
Mr Holness's assessment is undergirded by credible analyses - from the island's 14-place slump on this year's Transparency International's (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI), or to the findings of the latest (2014) biennial report of the USAID-sponsored Latin American democracy project, which showed that 91 per cent of Jamaicans believe that public corruption is either common or very common in their country. That democracy survey also highlights that such perceptions translate to a decline in support for, and trust in, the institutions of the State, as well as a correlation between low levels of trust, social dysfunction, and rising crime.
It is much the same argument that University of the West Indies (UWI) social anthropologist Herbert Gayle has been making in his ongoing series in this newspaper on solutions to Jamaica's horrific problem of crime, including the fact that our homicide rate of 50 per 100,000 population is well above the 30/100,000 benchmark for countries to be considered in civil war. "... Current figures show that violence directly wipes out four per cent of GDP and between two and 17 per cent of businesses' (revenue), depending on the size and type," Dr Gayle reminded yesterday.
We hope these data on the relationship between crime and the economy are firmly fixed in the mind of Andrew Holness to act as one of his battle standards in a sustained assault on corruption. In that regard, we hope that the prime minister's statement in the House on Tuesday, during the debate on the corruption commission bill, was akin to reaching the fifth stage of grief: acceptance.
In this circumstance, it is not merely accepting living with the wrong, but doing something about it so that Jamaicans can accept his word of "tackling the scourge of corruption and ... (restoring) public trust and goodwill in the institutions of the State".
Having anti-corruption legislation is an important, but not sufficient, condition for fighting corruption and rebuilding trust, for which Mr Holness hankers. Firm and transparent action is vital.
FRANK AND OPEN
In this regard, the prime minister can begin a reset of the confidence button by being frank and open with the issue that has cast a cloud over his administration: the J$800-million, verge-trimming and drain-cleaning project launched on the eve of last November's municipal elections, which many people branded as vulgar, partisan, vote-buying patronage.
The contractor general is investigating the scheme, but the Government can short-circuit that exercise by publicly disclosing the following:
The specific process for electing the contractors;
- The volume and value of work assigned to each contractor;
- The management fee of the project, and to whom it was paid;
- Who selected the workers for the various segments of the work;
- The actual amount paid to each employee;
- The rate per kilometre of work completed by each contractor;
- The normal rate paid for similar jobs;
- The rate of return for the contractors on this project;
- All documents and contracts related to the programme.
In other words, Mr Holness can assure Jamaicans that on this project, there was no "revenue leakage due to corrupt practices" and that it didn't undermine the possibility of projects such as those identified by Dr Gayle.