Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Ronald Mason | Corruption closer than you think

Published:Sunday | June 11, 2017 | 6:00 AM

It is hard to let go of my characterisation of corruption as being like termites eating away at a wooden house. The termites are unlikely to stop eating until the structure is totally destroyed. Corruption is eating away at Jamaica and shows no sign of retreating. The institution that is Jamaica is dying.

Jamaica is not the most corrupt nation when the ranking of Transparency International is used as the standard reporting on those things. In 2016, Jamaica ranked 83 out of 176, but the reality on the ground does not convey any glimmer of hope.

Corruption is to be found where those with access to and ability to use power abuse the privilege for personal gain. However, in Jamaica, corruption forms part of the fabric of the society. Every organised institution in Jamaica is tainted with corruption. Broad brush, yes, but I challenge anyone to name an organisation or institution with more than one member that is not corrupt. It would be exceedingly difficult to prove, but it is like pornography, hard to define, but you know it when you encounter the reality or the perception of corruption. The entire country knows the obvious principal perpetrators.

 

Corruption

 

The police, the Island Traffic Authority, the Transport Authority, politicians, civil servants, and the education systems. A public health-care system in which doctors divert patients from public hospitals for their private gain and use hospital equipment without reimbursing the cost. Civil servants require the let-off to do their duty. The judiciary returns some very strange rulings, and the utterances circulating with regarding these decisions boggle the mind. Transfers to 'traditional high schools' have thrived on corruption. Road and infrastructure construction is tainted from conception and is greased with bribes all the way through to the shoddy conclusion. Politicians find the vocation so financially rewarding that it is handed down as a family heirloom.

Despite the anecdotes and those instances that arise from personal experience, few go to jail for corruption in Jamaica. Do we lack the ability to successfully prosecute corruption cases? Are we so incompetent, or do we just lack the will? The society operates on the saying, 'Todeh fi yuh, tomarro fi mi.' Is there any real sense of nationalism and desire of a just and equitable society? We lie about statistics, we embellish the facts, and get away every time. Everybody lives in a world of gross deception.

At what point does the country recognise that all we are doing is hurting ourselves? How then can we have any credibility when we tell others to just do the right thing? Even when we seek to set up a structure to enlighten, guide, and support by exposure to values and attitudes, the project is stillborn. The population has no interest in values; they want their share of the ill-gotten spoils.

Who benefits from the 'lotto scam' money being defused in the society? Automobile dealers, construction and furniture interests, tourist interests, political parties, and even the Church? Nobody questions the donations or the source of cash. Society responds by introducing new legislation, but police personnel get extradited in the dragnet. Motor vehicles have their titles altered in the one place that is capable of doing it: the tax office. What are we building, or what have we built?

We aim to correct this by targeting the sexy institution - political parties - but we pay scant regard to the individual politician because he or she is presumed untouchable. Where is the road of corruption leading Jamaica?

The media find it difficult to accept that politics is not the 'us against them' in the quest to seize state resources for politicians' personal gain, and they pass off their reporting and outbursts with all kinds of nonsensical bleating. Journalism is not effective in Jamaica. Journalists do not hold public officials to account. The population thinks media personalities are bought. Everybody in Jamaica, sooner rather than later, learns the political leanings of the media personalities, and most are treated with scant regard.

The future will be greatly influenced by how the society treats with the plague of corruption. Most people in Jamaica have a price. Everybody is prepared to tell you in response to queries about their indiscretion, 'A nuh nutten dat, man.' They rank the acceptance by the size of the bribe or the size of that which was secured by dishonest means.

 

PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT

 

People get preferential treatment based on all manner of irrelevant criteria: the old school tie, the Lodge, the membership of a political organisation, membership of a religious organisation, the association with a service club are the common demarcations. Benefits are dispersed along those lines, and this is to be understood as normal.

We all need to take a look in the mirror and ask ourselves some honest questions. What is our personal role in the widespread debilitating function of corruption in this country? Are we going to continue to fall in line? Are we going to go along to get ahead? Do we really want a change? Are we really interested in building a Jamaican nation? Then, we must begin the change we say we want to see.

- Ronald Mason is an attorney-at-law and Supreme Court mediator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.