Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Editorial | A small act against corruption

Published:Wednesday | February 15, 2017 | 2:00 AM

In another place, the action of Sheridan Samuels, the chairman of the Hanover Municipal Council and mayor of the parish's capital, Lucea, might have gone unnoticed. It is what you would expect in the formulation and execution of policy.

But given our circumstances, including the recent history of the Hanover council, we are compelled to celebrate Mr Samuels and his fellow councillors.

Last December, the council approved the purchase of a new vehicle for the chairman and mayor, to be used for his official duties. But at last week's sitting, Mr Samuels moved a motion to reverse that decision in favour of the allocation going to the municipal police.

"... The fact that the council is not in a position to buy a J$10-million vehicle, I have decided not to go forward with it," he said. "... I would prefer the see the income-earning arm of the corporation get the tools to carry out its duties."

We take Mr Samuels at his word for his change of heart, which should go some way in shoring up confidence in a council that is badly in need of it. Indeed, one of Mr Samuels' recent predecessors, Shernet Haughton, is now before the courts on corruption charges, having allegedly breached the Government's procurement rules.

Ms Haughton approved and awarded drain-cleaning, verge-trimming and other contracts to close family and friends, without declaring interest and/or following regulations. The specific sums involved were not huge; but relative to the expenditure of municipal governments, they were substantial.

What, however, was especially significant about the episode was Ms Haughton's explanation of her actions when they were investigated by the Office of the Contractor General. She reportedly claimed that she had received no training on the ethical responsibilities of her job. She said, too, she was ignorant of the procurement rules.

Ms Haughton was eventually forced by her party to step down from the leadership of the council. The episode is believed to have contributed to the pressure felt by the People's National Party in last November's municipal elections, when it retained the Hanover council by a single seat, having previously held six of the seven.

 

CORRUPTION IS COMMON

 

Incidents such as these also contribute to the perception among more than 90 per cent of Jamaicans that corruption is common among public officials, as well as to the diminution of trust for political institutions and of others of the State.

According to the 2014 Latin American opinion survey on attitudes to democracy in the region, on a scale of zero to 100, Jamaican political parties were rated only 28.1. Its local government was least respected among the 17 countries surveyed - rated at 33.7, a decline of 11 degrees over two years. The rating for the national Parliament was 31.9. The upshot of all this was a decline in attitudes considered to be crucial to a stable democracy, and the rise of those associated with an unstable democracy, or one at risk.

Looked at another way, this is the kind of environment in which the building of social consensus - important to stability and economic growth - is difficult. That is why even small acts, like that of Mr Samuels', that eschew corruption and self-gain by public officials are worthy of note, celebration even.