Mon | Apr 22, 2019

Editorial | Integrity Commission, PSOJ should partner on corruption study

Published:Thursday | February 14, 2019 | 12:22 AM

Howard Mitchell, as the president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), has a legitimate interest, beyond his role as a citizen, in initiatives to fight corruption in Jamaica. Graft by public officials, the anecdotal evidence suggests, is a significant drag on Mr Mitchell’s constituents. It increases their cost of doing business.

Last week, Mr Mitchell proposed that Jamaica borrow from Britain a law to allow judges to issue unexplained wealth orders against suspected persons, who would be bound to explain the basis of their riches, even though they have not been convicted of a crime. This would be an easy and effective way, Mr Mitchell feels, to place the brakes on corruption.

Perhaps Mr Mitchell is right. But beyond the constitutional challenges that are likely to inhere in any such law, there are other issues relating to corruption that don’t, or haven’t yet, excited the sense of the public that it is a matter behind which they should throw their full weight. Real corruption is perceived to operate primarily within the realm of political and corporate titans, a ‘big man thing’, with consequences largely ephemeral to the ordinary people.

Rather, unlike what has been done with crime, which various studies have determined costs the Jamaican economy between five and seven per cent of its output annually – and the fight against which Mr Mitchell, also controversially, proposes “indefinite, isolated detention orders” against gang members – there is no such analysis of the cost of corruption. Put differently, while we can say that given Jamaica’s annual gross domestic product of around J$2 trillion and crime swipes between J$100 billion and J$140 billion from the economy annually, we can’t yet put such a value on corruption or relate that figure to the provision of public services such as healthcare and education.

This newspaper believes that this analysis ought to be done. But that idea resonates not only with us. The Parliament, too, believes that this data is important and established a broad framework for it to be gathered. It made it one of the jobs of the Integrity Commission, the law for which was passed in 2017.

Section 6(1) (m) of the act makes it one of the obligations of the commission to “determine the extent of financial losses and such other losses to public bodies, private individuals, and organisations, including losses sustained in the private sector as a result of acts of corruption”. We don’t expect the Integrity Commission to arrive at this data merely by doing sums, based on cases before it.

BUDGET COMPLAINTS

It has to conduct studies. Here is where Mr Mitchell comes in, if the PSOJ, and the private sector more broadly, does not want or intend to conduct their own analysis. Such studies cost money, and we suspect that the Integrity Commission will complain that the budget provided by the Government won’t enable it, especially at this early operational phase, to finance deep, credible research into the cost of corruption. Mr Mitchell, therefore, should rally his members to help the commission pay for one.

Such a partnership makes sense. Jamaica is ranked 75 of 190 countries on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index, down five places from 2017. Other countries have leapfrogged us, not necessarily because we have grown worse, but because we have not made fast strides. This, in part, relates to corruption, or the perception of it, in Jamaica. On Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, we stand at 70th among the world’s least corrupt countries, two places down from the previous year. Our score of 44, out of a possible 100, remained static, keeping Jamaica within the realm of countries – a score of at least 50 is required to get out of this purgatory – deemed to have serious corruption problems.

For the Government, this perception of corruption slows, if not stymies, the flow of foreign direct investment. Indeed, for foreign and domestic investor alike, corruption imposes real costs. Every dollar diverted to greasing the passage of a project through a regulatory agency, whose officials are already paid, is a dollar lost to actually getting production going or to providing a service. The Integrity Commission should note this fact in its forthcoming report as part of a case for a partnering with the PSOJ, if the private sector so desires.