Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Editorial | When Mr Holness goes after corruption

Published:Sunday | February 19, 2017 | 2:00 AM

Vincent Taylor and his Construction Solutions Limited are within their right to challenge, via the courts, the parameters within which the contractor general, Dirk Harrison, can conduct his investigation of a government contract to which they were party.

But neither the probe by the Office of the Contractor General nor the courts' eventual ruling on the scope of Mr Harrison's authority proscribes the moral obligation of the Holness administration to be frank and transparent with the Jamaican people about the controversial drain- and verge-cleaning project, initially billed at J$600 million, that is the subject of this probe. Or, for that matter, about any other scheme in which taxpayers' money is at stake.

Indeed, as Prime Minister Andrew Holness will appreciate, transparency in how the Government handles the people's business is an important precursor to rebuilding the public's trust in the credibility of the institutions of the Jamaican State, including reversing the perception, held by more than 90 per cent of Jamaicans, that the island's public officials are highly corrupt.

The matter that is the subject of Mr Harrison's scrutiny is the year-old government rollout of a clean-up programme on the eve of last November's municipal elections which carried the odour of selective pork-barrel patronage, or worse. Not only was its timing suspect, but the Opposition claimed that, unlike similar recent projects, they had no role in its planning. They rejected the administration's argument that its timing and the election were merely coincidental.

The scepticism over the legitimacy of the management of the project has lingered partly because of its proximity to the recent report by Transparency International in which Jamaica slipped 14 places, to 83, of 185 countries, on its Corruption Perception Index - a development that Mr Holness conceded accelerated his Government's passage of a long-stalled bill to create a single anti-corruption agency from the four that now exist.

There is, too, Mr Holness' inauguration pledge to run an administration that eschews corruption and his recent admission that Jamaica might have done better since Independence "were it not for corruption in many forms".

 

obvious correlation

 

There is an obvious correlation between the perception and fact of corruption, (under)development, people's sense of their economic situation, trust in public institutions and, ultimately, faith in democracy. As a 2014 survey on attitudes to democracy in Latin America showed, in Jamaica, even when people owned more material things, their confidence in the direction/future of the economy declined. At the same time, measured on a scale of zero to 100, faith in the judiciary, the police, Parliament and political parties suffered significant reverses, compared to two years earlier.

This mindset is inimical to the kind of society that Mr Holness says he wants to build, whose construction demands trust and whose foundation the PM can began to lay with a commitment to transparency. He can begin by disclosing the following information with respect to the cleaning project:

• Who selected the contractors and the process by which this was done;

• The volume and value of work assigned to each contractor;

• The management fee for the project, and all parties who received this payment;

• How many workers were employed on each segment of the project and who selected these workers;

• How much per kilometre workers were paid and the gross amount paid to them;

• The rate per kilometre paid to contractors and amount in kilometres completed by contractors;

• The rate of return achieved by contractors on the project;

• All documents related to the project.