Trevor Munroe | Help growing the seeds of integrity
I have just returned from a most enlightening 5th Annual Conference of the Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commissions, which opened on June 3 in the Cayman Islands in Grand Cayman. Ten Caribbean integrity commissions and anti-corruption bodies provided an update on the situation of each country.
With the possible exceptions of The Bahamas and Grenada, the country presentations suggested serious challenges, in some cases from the political directorate in fulfilling their mandate. Hence the theme of the Conference, ‘Transforming Words Into Action: Revitalising the Fight Against Corruption’, proved to be very much on target. In general, as one country representative put it, “the society is in danger of acquiescence to acts of corruption”.
I had to agree as well as disagree. In agreeing, it is clear that people across the region, and indeed globally, with some outstanding exceptions, are not speaking out and standing up to the corrupt as they did in so many countries in the 1960s and 1970s, and in the 1930s and 1940s.
In Jamaica, for example, the data shows that over the last few years, we are experiencing the lowest level of protest against misconduct and corruption in high places. Our workers, blue collar and white collar, as well as the trade unions, while making representation, are showing no militant resistance to the erosion of fundamental workers’ rights, particularly in respect of contract labour.
For example, evidence now confirms that some security companies are paying their guards less than the minimum wage, and very often in the public sector, in tourism and in the retail trade, employees with 15 to 20 years, working in the same position, are nevertheless classed as contractors, with little or no rights to vacation leave, sick leave and pension entitlements.
Leaders of the Church sometimes make pronouncements, but only infrequently, take a sustained stand on ethical issues. Here, as elsewhere, ‘the nine-day wonder’ seems alive and well.
I agree that movement for integrity and transformation are not what they used to be nor need to become. However, I disagree that this was the whole picture.
For example, in Jamaica and across the region and beyond, the people are not as apathetic as they appear. So much so that political leaders who want public support are compelled to try to outdo one another in pledging to stamp out corruption.
The challenge, as the conference recognised, is how to transform words into action; how to revitalise the fight against corruption. Clearly, the integrity plant is yet to bloom but there are signs of seeds germinating.
In that regard, on May 30, just before leaving for Cayman, I had an interesting experience in attending the IB (Inter-baccalaureate) graduation class of 2019 at Hillel Academy. Do you know what these 18- and 19-year-old youngsters posed as their theme for their graduation? ‘Revolutionaries … only the Beginning’.
In speaking to the theme, the teachers and youngsters who addressed the gathering declared their commitment to work for transformation, to work to right wrong, at home and abroad, to reduce inequality, to create more meaningful opportunity for the majority, to reduce discriminatory conduct, to resist authoritarian leadership, wherever it occurs. These ‘uptown’ graduands are clearly affirming a commitment to transform words into action. On reflection, they are not alone.
NEW GENRE OF REGGAE ARTISTES
Listen to some of the lyrics of the new genre of reggae artistes, all in their 20s:
- Koffee – a product of Ardenne: “Parliament tun di paper/fi Ghetto yuth dem no cater/That’s why the country nuh safer” (Raggamuffin)
- Protoje – out of Munro: “Come tek a look inna Jamaica/Injustice with di place now/If what you see no really phase you/Then you a di problem that wi face to” (Blood Money).
- Chronixx – a graduate from the prime minister’s school, St Catherine High: “Ah dem seh here comes trouble/Here comes the danger/sent by the Saviour, welcome the Rasta youth/I and I a start recruit soldiers fi Selassie I army” (Here Comes Trouble).
- Kabaka Pyramid – out of Campion: “Rebel music a bring the change/so free the ghetto youth from the chains” (Rebel Music).
Anyone who doubts that awareness is growing had better listen more carefully to these voices.
The seeds of transformation are also evident in communities like Majesty Gardens, where organisations like Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica are partnering with the Jamaica Basketball Association and the Jamaica Professional Youth Workers Association in behavioural modification initiative for youths 9-14, termed ‘From Hustler to CEO’, in projects like Rockspring Farms in Rockfort, where a local economic enterprise is generating employment and generating significant income by young people for young people.
Integrity initiatives are also developing in schools, as yet not many, but growing, through the joint programme of National Integrity Action and the Ministry of Education in establishing Integrity Clubs. The soil is fertile for this initiative, as the 2017 Survey of Youth, primarily in secondary schools, found that a big majority of young people know the right thing. The challenge is to get them to actually turn from negative conduct to do the right thing.
My own recent engagement with the leaders of 16 youth groups, including representatives of the PNPYO and Young Jamaica, in a training programme on ‘Youth Violence Prevention’, also suggests a small but growing group among youth leaders interested in involvement in bringing about positive change, in transforming words into action.
Among the ‘older heads’, there are signs that influential public officials, leaders in the professions and in the private sector as well as in the churches are intensifying the call on colleagues to avoid becoming complicit in wrongs and to do the right thing, however risky. There is no doubt in my mind that the seeds of integrity and transformation are germinating. Each of us, in our own way, needs to help to water and fertilise those seeds with funding, training and mentoring. The plants are not evident now, but the seeds shall surely germinate and sprout, hopefully sooner more than later.