Fri | Jan 18, 2019

Peter Espeut | Cleaning Jamaica’s Augean stables

Published:Friday | January 26, 2018 | 12:00 AM

When I went to high school in 1964 at age 10, Latin was a compulsory subject. We complained at the time, but in retrospect, it greatly assisted in improving my English language skills, as did my study of Greek at university.

In second form, our Latin reader was Fabulae Faciles, and we enjoyed translating into English, the Greek and Roman myths about Jason and the Argonauts pursuing the Golden Fleece, Ulysses fighting the giant one-eyed Cyclops, the Twelve Labours of Hercules, and Perseus who slew Medusa the Gorgon and cut off her head.

I have never forgotten the story of the fifth Labour of Hercules. King Eurystheus had already given Hercules four seemingly impossible tasks: to vanquish various dangerous and deadly monsters, including the Nemean lion, the many-headed Lernean Hydra, the Erymanthean Boar, and a herd of Centaurs - half-man, half-horse. And slew them all he did (except the wild boar, which he captured alive), and came off much the hero.

The next task Eurystheus set Hercules was filthy and demeaning and definitely impossible: to cleanse the vast Augean stables in one day. King Augeus had the largest herd of cattle in all Greece - 3,000 oxen - and in 30 years had never had his stables cleaned. The cow poop was mountainous, and growing. Even Hercules' great strength and courage would be of no use; by the time he shovelled out one pile, a hundred more would have been deposited; Hercules would surely be degraded and humiliated as he spent his day of failure waist deep in cow doo-doo.

The brawn he used to strangle the lion, and the stamina that allowed him to chase the boar round and round the mountain until it was exhausted, would be of no use here.

To solve this seemingly insurmountable task, Hercules had to take quite a different approach, and to think outside the box. This problem would be solved by brain, not by brawn.

Hercules made holes in the front and back walls of the stables, and diverted the courses of two nearby rivers through the stables. In no time - in less than a day - the water had flushed out all the muck, and the stables were fresh and clean. And Hercules never even got his feet dirty.

Just because a story is a myth does not mean that it is not true (we learn this from Bible study). Hercules assessed the situation and realised that all his considerable personal powers were not enough to clean up the corruption before him; he had to bring in outside forces to do the job.

Corruption in Jamaica is so widespread and pervasive and self-generating that one could argue that the filthy Augean stables are an appropriate metaphor for our situation. No sector is completely free from it - not politicians or police, nor the private sector or the civil service; not even the Church.

I hear the plan to retire, in the public interest, policemen who are suspected of corruption, but since the system itself is corrupt and breeds corruption, I am sure that in no time, a new crop of corrupt police will emerge.




I do not hear any plan to retire corrupt politicians in the public interest, or to change the system which will expose the nexus between politics and crime. The new campaign-finance legislation which is intended to prevent bribery and influence peddling by the private sector is so filled with loopholes, it will only cause a change of strategy, not a reduction in corruption.

In the fight against crime, what is needed is a good dose of brain, rather than more brawn.

Whether we like to admit it or not, it has been an outside force - the International Monetary Fund - a river flowing through the government-managed Jamaican economy rife with 'blys' and waivers - that has been somewhat able to cleanse us of our filthy habit of fiscal indiscipline.

Our own security forces have not been able to indict anyone high up for gunrunning, drug dealing, political corruption, or bribery. Maybe we need to engage a Hercules from outside to do some serious detective work to clean our own Augean stables.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and rural development scientist. Email feedback to