Editorial | Corruption struggle
The corruption hotline has gone cold, according to reports from two of the country's agencies at the forefront of oversight.
The Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) and the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) are both lamenting the paucity of information they receive from members of the public via their confidential telephone lines.
The statistics tell the story best: Between January 1 and June 1 this year, only 35 calls were made to the MOCA anti-corruption hotline. Meanwhile, the OCG received only 32 calls in the first four months of this year. These are about half the number of complaints received two years ago.
Jamaica ranks ninth of 11 English-speaking Caribbean countries in the 2016 edition of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). And on the global scale, Jamaica has consistently averaged in the 30s out of 100 countries in a ranking where zero means highly corrupt.
Could it be then that reports of corruption being widespread and entrenched in Jamaica are exaggerated? For a country that is said to be so mired in corruption, why are persons not seizing the opportunity to flag suspicious actions of public officials and expose wrongdoings? Could it be that persons who benefit from corruption are tolerant?
Quite likely, there are confidential concerns among potential callers who, although desirous of reporting wrongdoing, are reluctant to blow the whistle. The authorities have stressed that these hotlines are outsourced overseas to ensure their credibility and to promote anonymity of persons reporting incidents of corruption.
We submit that for such anti-corruption mechanisms to be successful, complaints have to be investigated and action taken. Members of the public who take the time to complain should be given some feedback on whether persons have been dismissed, admonished, suspended demoted, or warned.
Ramshackle justice system
A somewhat cynical response to the lament of the anti-corruption agency came from a member of the public: Who is going to prosecute them?
The law is only as good as its enforcement, and in our ramshackle justice system, it is becoming increasingly difficult to investigate, prosecute and convict anyone, as evidenced by the fact that in modern Jamaican history, only three senior public officials have been imprisoned for corrupt actions.
What really is corruption? And how can one recognise it? A simple definition of corruption is the misuse of money and power by those in positions of authority for their private gain. Broadly speaking, corruption covers a range of unethical actions, including theft, coercion, collusion, fraud, nepotism, abuse of power, usually resulting in the siphoning off of public money for private use.
The effects of corruption can create chaos and mayhem in a country. It undermines development, dampens trust in government, and bleeds public institutions of the resources necessary to run schools, hospitals and undertake road repairs and other infrastructure works.
Some members of the public complain bitterly in every available forum about the obstacles they encounter in their bid to access government services and benefits. There is potential for corruption in all spheres of daily life.
Every government in recent times has vowed to stamp out corruption. Public pronouncements have been vigorous. State agencies have been created, legislation has been passed, and law enforcement has been boosted, and even with a vocal and active anti-corruption NGO that is ratcheting up the pressure, there still is no clear path to diminishing corruption.
The ugly truth that Jamaica needs to confront is that corruption has become a way of life for many and is seen as a cultural norm. Corruption becomes institutionalised when the threat is underestimated. Fighting the scourge of corruption in Jamaica will take a very long time.