Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Editorial | In a state of corruption

Published:Wednesday | August 2, 2017 | 8:00 AM

As he presides over the celebrations for Jamaica's 55th anniversary of Independence and 179 years since slavery ended, Prime Minister Andrew Holness ought not to miss the latest evidence of the cynicism and mistrust entertained by Jamaicans. And should the PM be seriously invested in a substantial and transcendental premiership, these declarations should help frame an urgent agenda for his Government.

The findings of an opinion survey conducted in June for this newspaper by pollster Bill Johnson, which highlighted the absence of confidence in Jamaican institutions, are important. More than half (55 per cent) of the country's adults could not name someone they considered a significant role model. Of the 35 per cent who took a stab at the question, track star Usain Bolt was, by far, the country's greatest inspiration. His 21 per cent dwarfed the four per cent each for Mr Holness and his predecessor, Portia Simpson Miller.

Further, nearly two-thirds of those polled could not think of a personality who had contributed significantly to Jamaica's development in the post-colonial period. Of the respondents with a view, Michael Manley, the controversial 1970s prime minister (nine per cent), was the top choice.

In another circumstance, it might have been plausible to argue that the responses reflected a happily perverse difficulty - that they represented an embarrassment of riches which made it hard to give answers. Except that the same survey reiterated another deeper and often-discussed crisis, which poses a serious threat to social stability and, ultimately, Jamaica's democracy.

The institutions traditionally considered crucial to social cohesion enjoyed little trust among citizens. Politicians from whom we might extrapolate an extension to political parties and the legislature fared the worst. Eighty-eight per cent of Jamaicans said they distrusted this class of citizens. Only six per cent trusted them. The police (10 per cent) were only marginally better.

While most other institutions enjoyed trust of hardly more than a quarter of the respondents, the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) was substantially better at nearly 40 per cent. This perception of the JDF like other findings in the Johnson poll echoes the results of previous surveys relating to Jamaica. They also raise important questions about cause and effect and what consequences the broader implications of these findings may hold for Jamaica.

Indeed, we believe that the Bill Johnson findings should be analysed in the context of another consistent bit of data: that nearly 90 per cent of Jamaicans perceive public officials to be corrupt. Indeed, Mr Holness himself argued earlier this year that Jamaica might have achieved more in its 55 years of independence "were it not for corruption in many forms".

This perception of a deep, endemic corruption not only breeds the cynicism evidenced in the Johnson poll, but drives a worsening of attitudes as the 2014 Latin America public opinion surveys captured with regard to Jamaica - that poses a threat to democracy.

Mr Holness came to office vowing to fight corruption. His statement about what Jamaica, but for corruption, might have been in the years of Independence came against the backdrop of a parliamentary debate for the establishment of a single anti-corruption agency. Having credible anti-corruption institutions, however, is only part of the solution. Fighting corruption and winning back trust demands more: a relentless crusade led by the prime minister.

Therein lies Mr Holness' challenge.