Editorial | Corruption and the cost of crime
Three years ago, researchers for the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) found that 50 per cent of Jamaicans had lost someone close to them because of violence. Put starkly, half of us know maybe a brother, sister, mother, father, a friend or some such person who was murdered.
That figure is now likely to be higher. For since that analysis in 2014, Jamaica's murder rate, after three years of decline, has been on the rise. Last year, homicides climbed by around 20 per cent, to more than 1,300, placing the country on the seemingly inexorable march back to the worst days of the first decade of the 2000s, when the murder rate was well over 60 per 100,000. It is now at 50 per 100,000.
At that rate, Jamaica is not only in the top tier of the world's most murderous countries, but, according to University of the West Indies social anthropologist Herbert Gayle, we kill each other on a scale associated with countries in civil war, the benchmark for which is 30 per 100,000. This bloodletting carries serious economic costs.
ESTIMATED 4% OF GDP
In 2014, for instance, the IDB researchers estimated that, in nominal terms, adjusted for purchasing power parity, crime cost Jamaica around four per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), or US$963 million. Its bill per citizen was more than US$350. Further, the average cost of homicides over the five-year period 2010 to 2014 - which is to say, the calculation of the income lost to persons murdered each year - was 0.44 per cent of GDP. That ranged from a high of 0.61 per cent of GDP in 2010 to 0.36 per cent in 2014. That figure would be higher now.
The Government's crime-related expenditure was 2.44 per cent of GDP. The private sector, too, is impacted by crime. Nearly 20 per cent of Jamaican firms experienced loss from theft, and more than that number said they employed security because of crime. Such expenditures, the researchers pointed out, siphoned money away "from other activities that could potentially enhance productivity" an observation we note against the annual one per cent decline in Jamaica's labour productivity over the past 40 years.
There are several messages contained in this IDB report, not least of which is the reaffirmation that crime is both a major social and economic issue, requiring urgent and thoughtful action by the Jamaican authorities, including, we believe, a relentless drive against corruption. This study, with its focus on citizen security, did not focus on corruption, which is perceived to be deeply endemic in Jamaica and of huge cost to the society, evidenced by this country's 14-place decline, to 83 of 175 countries, on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.
Corruption deprives the State of resources with which to invest in social infrastructure of the kind that Dr Gayle argues is necessary to begin to confront the community and social problems that feed criminality, as well as in services that facilitate job creation and economic growth. These are issues about which Prime Minister Andrew Holness has talked a lot recently. It is now for Mr Holness to demonstrate the political will for action.
In this regard, Mr Holness has to convince us of his capacity to run a government that eschews corruption, including walking back from a permissive political culture that gave rise to garrison communities and the embrace by political parties of assorted dons and enforcers, as well as notions of policing that are authoritarian and brutish rather than civil.