Mon | Aug 21, 2017

Trevor Munroe | Recognising wrong, doing right, getting results

Published:Sunday | June 11, 2017 | 6:00 AM
Trevor Munroe
JPS employees carrying out removal of illegal electricity connections in the Palm Grove Court community off Spanish Town Road in Kingston on March 6. More than 80 per cent of respondents in a university survey said that electricity theft was unacceptable.
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"Today's youth don't know the difference between what is corrupt and what is not; between right and wrong." NOT TRUE! At least for the more than 200,000 of our young people between 10 and 19 who attend Jamaica's public primary and secondary schools.

Between November 17 and December 2, 2016, the Depart-ment of Government conducted a national survey of this group on behalf of the Office of the Contractor General. The survey found that a substantial majority of these young students indeed had positive attitudes towards integrity and correspondingly clearly understood what wrongdoing was.

Contemplate their responses to these scenarios. "An unemployed who steals electricity. Is this an acceptable behaviour?" Approximately 85 per cent of the young people responded "not acceptable". Even more interesting: "A family member or friend who participates in lotto scamming. Is this acceptable behaviour?" Approximately 89 per cent said "not acceptable".

These overwhelming responses were typical of answers relating to a number of scenarios within the school, family, community, and across public life. Clearly, these youngsters have no difficulty in articulating what is corrupt and what is not. As the report authors put it, "The young people surveyed have strong moral beliefs and a clear notion of what is right and wrong."

For this clarity, parents, guardians, teachers, media messages, and other influencers must be appreciated even as we acknowledge that in some scenarios, the approval of corrupt conduct was sometimes between 25 per cent and 30 per cent. Of course, as we all know, positive attitudes do not equate to positive behaviour. Positive attitudes, however, provide a firmer foundation for doing what is right than if the attitudes were pointed in the wrong direction.

 

REPORTING CORRUPTION

 

So what about readiness of the young people to take a stand against corruption and to uphold integrity? The survey tells us that a majority would be willing to report a corrupt act. However, a significant 30 per cent was either generally unwilling or conditionally inclined. Reason? They believe that nothing will happen. And second, there would be no protection against backlash. In these two respects, the young people are similar to the adult population.

The cynicism and fear underlying this reluctance to report is to some extent unjustified. Results do often come from reporting corruption, and there are effective tools for reporting that do provide protection. Whenever a young person or an adult has information concerning an award of a contract not on merit but on grounds of politics, that information can be conveyed by hotline to the Office of the Contractor General. If desired, the person reporting may remain anonymous.

The former mayor of Lucea, Shernet Haughton, is now before the courts facing criminal charges for corruption-related conduct because citizens utilised this facility. Similarly, if one witnesses a high-ranking person attempting to bribe a police officer or to pervert the course of justice, one may call the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) Hotline 1-800-CORRUPT, answered offshore and which receives anonymous calls. Arrests, prosecutions, and convictions have resulted from such reports. If someone sees taxpayers' money being wasted by shoddy work on roads, this can be reported, with good effect, to the auditor general or to the National Works Agency.

 

WITNESS PROTECTION

 

If one witnesses a murder and is fearful that reporting may risk life and limb, it is possible to go into the witness-protection programme. I personally have known a witness to a homicide who went into the programme, provided evidence, a conviction ensued, and the initially fearful witness is now out of the programme, pursuing a successful career.

One may also report to Crime Stop. Since its inception in 1989, well over 300 arrests for murder have followed on anonymous Crime Stop tips and almost $25 million in rewards has been paid out.

Our youth and our adults who see wrong and witness corrupt acts need to make more and better use of these facilities. For example, between January and April of 2017, only about 30 calls each were made to the hotlines of the Office of the Contractor General and that of MOCA. In May 2017, fifty new tips were received by Crime Stop, an average of about 12 per week and resulting in five arrests in the month of May.

Bar talk, hairdressing parlour anecdotes, schoolyard discussions about acts of corruption and wrongdoing need to be converted more into reports if we are to more effectively combat crime and corruption, the number-one threat to economic development and citizen security.

Equally, quickly establishing the proposed Office of the Director of Corruption Prosecutions and legislating the agreed strengthening of the investigative autonomy of MOCA shall assist in reducing the deficit of high-level convictions noticed by the Jamaican people and continuously commented on by our international partners. It will also provide a powerful antidote to the young people and the adults who now believe that nothing will happen if they report corruption and who are fearful that reporting wrong is not worth the risk.

- Professor Trevor Munroe is executive director of National Integrity Action. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tmunroe@niajamaica.org.