Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Ronald Mason | Corruption - the accepted national vice

Published:Sunday | September 3, 2017 | 12:00 AM

Corruption can best be defined as an act involving two or more parties for the benefit of illicit gain for an interested person. This act takes place many times per day, every day, involving most of the people in Jamaica.

It is sought and made available in all strata of the society, from the minister of religion who bumps a funeral slot from the family of the deceased to make it available to a higher-paying candidate; to the used car dealer who imports a 2005 vehicle and sells it as 2007 model; to the politician who, after a registered contractor is chosen for roadwork, places a known area don aligned to their party as the subcontractor who does not know the difference between a bag of cement and a bag of thinset. He has, however, assured the councillor and other lackeys that they will be taken care of.

This practice could well be nurtured in the highest office of the land, where $800 million is divided up and shared in a manner that is questioned by the Office of the Contractor General. The persons referred to in the 245-page report from the OCG have been so silent in their response that Jamaica must wonder if there is a sudden onslaught of deafness, while others have apparently been struck speechless. However, this should not surprise any Jamaican. Anancy, samfie, plain ol' t'iefing have become iconic influences in society. Sorry, Miss Lou, no room for you.

Corruption restricts the potential for growth. We speak of growing GDP in terms of two to three per cent per annum and a fantasy of five per cent within four years, but we do not use the tools available to attack corruption because 0.3 per cent is okay because today for me, tomorrow for you.

Workers boast that they will not take a job unless it facilitates hustling. In April 2016, a 28-foot boat was found to have $1 billion of illicit drugs on board and the crew wee were released. To date, there has been no published report coming from the Jamaica Constabulary Force about this matter. Who was paid? How much was paid, when, and by whom? In all of this, we run around with all due haste to beg for citizens' cooperation with the police. Laughable.

 

ADEQUATE LAWS

 

Jamaica has adequate laws and conventions that are available to tackle corruption. Jamaica, on the 16th September, 2005, was a signatory to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. Jamaica ratified that treaty on March 5, 2008. It is a most comprehensive treaty and the record reflects that the only notation made to the terms and conditions by Jamaica was done on the 10th April, 2012 when we asked that all requests for Mutual Legal Assistance be made in English.

This treaty has been fully available for our use. I can find no record of our ever seeking to utilise its terms and conditions. Some of the definitions are most fitting. For example, 'public official' shall mean any person holding a legislative, executive, administrative or judicial office of a state party, whether appointed or elected, whether permanent or temporary, whether paid or unpaid, et al.

As of August 31, 2017 some 185 countries have ratified this treaty. Have we ever sought to follow the money in accordance with this treaty? We know politicians, and public servants have companies and real estate holdings in jurisdictions where this treaty, UN Convention Against Corruption, speaks to, in Article (20), the term 'apparent wealth', which is defined as 'unexplained increase in the wealth of a public official while in office'. 'Significant increase in the assets of a public official that he or she cannot reasonably explain in relation to his or her lawful income'. How can we claim to be tackling corruption and have no need to use this tool?

When we ratified this convention, only 140 countries had done so. Yet when one makes the observation that there must be weakness in the application of anti-corrupt measure the normal refrain is, you are making unfair and unsubstantiated links.

The public should be forgiven for the cynicism that exists in Jamaica. Very few persons have ever been prosecuted by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The Parliament contorts itself to provide exemptions for each other.

Senior police officers with multiple children to support drive high-priced luxury vehicles in their private capacity and complain every day that they are underpaid, but I forget each one has a fairy godmother who has found the proverbial pot of gold, and fortunately they reside with this pot of gold overseas. Apparent wealth is a meaningless term in the land where corruption is the national vice.

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