Sat | Sep 19, 2020

Editorial | Holness, Phillips and the culture of impunity

Published:Saturday | January 19, 2019 | 12:00 AM

The embarrassing revelation last week that annual reports of parliamentarians' statutory declarations for the last four years, not counting the just-ended 2018, had not been tabled in the House of Representatives should trigger action from Jamaica's political leadership.

Public trust and confidence in governance has been at a low ebb for many years, as evidenced by opinion surveys on perceptions of integrity. For example, the 2016-17 Latin American Public Opinion Project survey shows a growing appetite among the Jamaican populace for the army to take control of the country through a coup. Virtually 60 per cent of Jamaicans favour military intervention. And less than a quarter of the population trust political parties.

These statistics should ring the alarm, but we sense that our governors are not the least bit concerned about the compromising of the foundations of the State.

There has also been a precipitous fall, over the last 30 years, in electoral turnout, which is an index of rising cynicism about the worth of a ballot. Less than 48 per cent of the electorate voted in the last general election, in 2016, a record low in modern political history. The real percentage is even less, because thousands of Jamaicans who are eligible for the voters' list decline to be registered, generally because of scepticism or apathy.




This troubling decrease in electoral participation is in contradiction to the improvement of the electoral machinery, which, though not perfect, is world class and the envy of many jurisdictions. So even while elections, per se, are more transparent, Jamaicans' faith in the value of voting has diminished. There is deep-seated distrust of the political class, who are viewed as highly susceptible to corruption, nepotism and graft.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has repeatedly spoken of his administration's commitment to transparency and accountability, but failure to address grave concerns over the $600-million bush-clearing project, and facilitation of cronyism within the energy ministry, suggest that the Government is indifferent towards, if not accommodative of, corruption. Past People's National Party administrations present fitting parallels.

If Mr Holness and Opposition Leader Peter Phillips are to raise public confidence in politicians and the political process, they must be fully invested in changing the narrative of distrust.

Since the somnambulant Integrity Commission, hiding behind statute, has failed to explain why no report on parliamentarians' declarations has been tabled for 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, Mr Holness and Dr Phillips should intervene.

They should canvass their respective sides of the legislature and report to the public those members who have made submissions, those who are in breach, and what punitive action or moral suasion will ensue if delinquents flout law and principle. We cannot remain in the dark.

If the prime minister and opposition leader do not consider appalling the lack of accountability under their noses, the public can only conclude that the culture of impunity is endorsed by the political leadership.