Editorial | What PM should take way from US report
The Jamaican authorities will no doubt take comfort from America's acknowledgement in this year's narcotics strategy report of the island's continued cooperation with the United States against drug trafficking and money laundering. So, we are in no imminent danger of being blacklisted, or facing an assessment similar to January's travel advisory on crime, signalling to global businesses that Jamaica is a place they might want to bypass.
There is, nonetheless, no room for complacency. For, should Jamaicans have forgotten, the Americans reminded us that not only is corruption rife here, but our institutions have been largely ineffective, if not lacking the will to do much about the problem. Corrupt public officials, up to now, have not had too much to worry about.
Indeed, the report, released by the State Department last month, conceded, as it has done in the past, that Jamaican governments do not, as a matter of policy, "encourage or facilitate" corrupt behaviour, including in drug tracking or financial transactions. Yet, in practice, the Americans suggested, corruption is rampant. People, though, get away with it. And the higher up they are in the society, the easier it is.
Observed the report: "The last time a member of parliament or similarly high-ranking official was tried or convicted on corruption charges was in 1990, when a former minister of labour was convicted for diverting money from a farm work programme for personal gain. Corruption at Jamaica's airports and seaports allegedly facilitates the movement of drug shipments across borders, and organised crime leaders have historically had ties to government officials, creating a permissive environment for drug trafficking."
PROCESSING CORRUPTION CASES
Indeed, since the jailing of J.A.G. Smith and his permanent secretary, Probyn Aiken, nearly three decades ago, there has been only one other prosecution of a former government minister, Kern Spencer, for allegedly siphoning money from a project to distribute LED bulbs, donated by Cuba, to Jamaican households. The case famously collapsed.
The Americans make no direct link between the "historical ties" of the leaders of organised crime and politicians - and the "permissive environment" that this creates - and what they deemed to be a poor record of law enforcement and the judicial system in prosecuting corruption cases.
We would expect that Paula Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions, would reject any such claim about her incumbency, arguing that she has to have prosecutable cases to take to court. If, in the past, there has been laxity in investigations, the recently installed police chief will probably insist that things will change going forward.
We take them at their word, as well as note, as the Americans did, the efforts to strengthen Jamaica's anti-corruption institutions. For instance, Parliament is debating legislation to transition the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency from a task force within the constabulary to an independent entity investigating corruption. There is, too, the new integrity agency for parliamentarians and public officials, with its independent prosecutor.
These institutions will hopefully work. But the best prospect for a robust campaign against corruption will be the signal sent from the top.
Prime Minister Andrew Holness has consistently declared his intolerance of corruption, saying it has been a drag on Jamaica's development. He now has to translate words to effective action, including going after anyone who is corrupt in his government and party.