Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Editorial | PNP and the battle against corruption

Published:Tuesday | February 7, 2017 | 2:00 AM

With Sunday's announcement of her timetable for stepping aside, Peter Phillips, barring some dramatic turn of events, will, on March 26, become president of the People's National Party (PNP) and later, leader of the Opposition. His party will expect his priority to be lead the PNP back to government. And as quickly as possible.

That, on the face of it, is not an unreasonable expectation. The raison d'Ètre of political parties, after all, is the winning of state power in order to pursue policies that they believe are for the national good. Personal ambition, too, could likely drive Dr Phillips in this direction. At 67, and with a general election four years off, time is not on his side if he is to ever become prime minister.

Yet, winning the Government ought not to be Dr Phillips's most urgent priority. He has something as equally important to do - fix the PNP thus helping to restore confidence in Jamaica's governance process, and, ultimately, in the country's democracy. And as a scholar, social scientist, and student of political economy, Dr Phillips no doubt appreciates the corollary between an unhealthy democracy and Jamaica's other crisis: its perceived epidemic of corruption.

Indeed, the PNP's presumptive leader won't have missed the island's 14-place slippage, to 83 of 175 countries, on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI), coming after Jamaica's 16-place advance in 2015 when his party formed the Government, about which its shadow justice minister has crowed. The fact is, however, that Jamaica has ebbed and flowed on these scales of corruption; forward movements not sustained. They are followed by usually larger ones backward.

So the underlying perception of corruption seems intractable. For example, the latest available USAID-supported survey on democracy in Latin America showed that approximately 91 per cent of Jamaicans perceived their country to be between substantially corrupt or very corrupt and that public officials were largely on the take.

Significantly, institutions of the State struggled for public trust, with those engaged in political governance doing the worst. Political parties, which clearly include Dr Phillips's PNP, were at the bottom. Rated at a scale of 0-100, they, at 28.1, were just behind the Parliament at 31.9. Considered another way, politicians and the institutions within which they function were more despised than the police, whose rating on the scale in 2014 was 38.3.

 

RESPECT FOR JDF

 

Maybe in the context of these statistics, it is not surprising that the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) remained the country's most respected institution, as it has been since these surveys started more than a decade ago. Happily, the Jamaican military has not been minded to interfere with civil government. Nonetheless, there are reasons for concern in these numbers.

Not only were there significant downward slides in the indices for political trust and political tolerance between the 2012 and 2014 surveys, attitudes that support democracy also fell markedly, as well as those that would shore up "authoritarian stability". What were on the rise were those attitudes that favour either an unstable democracy or those that put democracy at risk.

That is the crisis that faces Dr Phillips. He will preside over a party that forfeited intellectual groundings and moral guidance to become a machine capable of winning elections, at which it has been a major success. In the process, as an institution and in government, it fostered a permissiveness that facilitated corruption and weakened democracy.

The question is whether Dr Phillips has the inclination or will to lead the transformation.