Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Editorial | Corruption's weak focus in Throne Speech

Published:Sunday | February 12, 2017 | 2:00 AM

Embarrassed by Jamaica's 14-place slide on Transparency International's latest Corruption Perception Index - to 83 of 175 countries - the Government hustled to Parliament to pass the law establishing a single anti-corruption agency.

This newspaper welcomed the move. For, as Prime Minister Andrew Holness observed during the debate, while Jamaica may have made significant strides in the 55 years since its Independence, "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".

The depth and breadth of that perception of Jamaica as a corrupt country is astounding. A 2014 survey on attitudes to democracy in the hemisphere showed that more than 90 per cent of Jamaicans believe corruption among public officials here to be common or very common.

Such attitudes erode citizens' trust in the institution of the state. For example, measured on a scale from zero to 100, Jamaica's political parties were rated at only 28.1, a 43 percentage-point drop from two years early. Parliament, with a rating of 31.9, was only slightly better. And these two institutions, political parties and Parliament, trailed the police in respect. The justice system, too, struggled for people's confidence, with a rating on the scale of 41.1.

It is not surprising that while attitudes deemed to be supportive of a stable democracy were in retreat - declining by 20.6 degrees, or 55 per cent, between 2012 and 2014 - those associated with an unstable democracy, or one at risk, were on the rise. Nor ought it to be surprising that the Jamaica Defence Force was the country's most respected institution.

 

Holness' debate pledge appreciated

 

It is against that backdrop that we especially appreciated Mr Holness' debate pledge, on behalf of his Government, "to do all in our power to rid Jamaica of the scourge of corruption and to restore public trust and goodwill in the institutions of the State".

There are two critical things, though, worth noting about transformation and transformative ideas. One is that the mere creation of the institution is not the transformation; nor is the statement the action. So, the collapsing of four mostly ineffective anti-corruption agencies into a single one won't, of itself, mean a change in attitudes, or a defeat of corruption.

Second, transformative change often requires extraordinary leadership - a champion or change agent who helps others internalise new ideals and to live by them. It usually requires going over well-traversed ground, as well as repeating and reinforcing the new vision. And herein lie our surprise and concern: that so little was made of corruption is last week's Throne Speech at the opening of the new parliamentary year.

 

Government's priorities

 

That speech by the governor general sets out the Government's priorities for the year. Early in the address, the governor general spoke of the need for Jamaica to address "corruption and public inefficiency". There were bits of proposed legislation that, if passed and robustly implemented, could have an impact on corruption. Towards the end, there was a call to "shun the culture of indiscipline, corruption and dishonesty".

Yet, the fight against corruption was not a large, overarching or lived theme of this Throne Speech, on a matter on which the Government was ready for a bruising battle. Yet, it is the root of so much of Jamaica's problems.