Sat | Sep 26, 2020

Editorial | Make parties report on anti-corruption activities

Published:Tuesday | January 28, 2020 | 12:00 AM

While no one, of whatever political persuasion, should find anything to celebrate in Jamaica’s slippage in Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the Holness administration oughtn’t to be surprised at the decline. For even as Prime Minister Andrew Holness speaks eloquently about eliminating kickbacks, graft, and other forms of malfeasance from public life, it is not the sense of most Jamaicans, or, obviously, the data that inform the CPI, that good, strong words are equalled by robust action.

The matter of greatest concern is not Jamaica’s descent in four places, to 74, of 180 countries. That is possible without any deterioration in the performance of a country that has fallen in the league table. Others, after all, can accelerate a clip to advance beyond a country that remains static. That, indeed, has happened.

More significant, however, is the one-point decline in Jamaica’s score, to 43 out of a possible 100, and the danger that this may hold for reversing the consequential gain Jamaica made in 2017, the year it passed legislation for the Integrity Commission, when its score jumped to 44, up five points, or nearly 13 per cent, from the previous year. The score remained static in 2018, before last year’s decline.

What has happened since 2017 has been the Government’s inability to translate good institutional policies and strategies into operational deliverables and to extricate itself from the perceived clutches of corruption. The Integrity Commission, for instance, has been off to a slow, stumbling start, having, thus far, been unable to employ its full quota of staff on a long-term basis. Most of its key posts, including its directors of investigations and prosecutions, are provisionally held.

It hasn’t helped that the commissioners were engaged in a public imbroglio with its former acting director of prosecutions; that, in a bit over a year, two commissioners, including its first chairman, resigned; or that its first report was not seen by the public to be as transparent as those of the institutions it subsumed, which were themselves perceived to be inadequate.

Moreover, Parliament has, so far, failed to take up a range of suggestions for amendments to the law to make its work more transparent, including one from the commissioners that they be allowed to disclose that an investigation is being opened. The issues surrounding the Integrity Commission, whether they require attention internally or demand parliamentary action, have to be addressed with urgency to enhance its transparency and build public trust in the institution.

REPORTING CONDITIONS

The administration must also quickly finalise, and have Parliament approve, regulations to establish the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) as an independent, stand-alone, policing body as envisaged by the underlying legislation. We propose, too, that the investigative powers of the finance ministry’s Financial Investigations Division (FID) be extended to the ability to independently arrest and lay charges, without handholding by the constabulary.

Further, Mr Holness has to find a way to convince Jamaicans, more than 60 per cent of whom believe his administration is corrupt, that he is serious about fighting it, and is willing to do difficult things, including taking political risks, to rid his administration of that albatross. Some of these, though, such as expediting the trials of former Education Minister Ruel Reid, and others, for the corruption allegations levelled against them, and disclosure of the status of investigations into graft and cronyism at the Petrojam oil refinery, will also require action from law-enforcement and anti-corruption bodies. The PM should urge them along.

At the same, Mr Holness, as leader of the Jamaica Labour Party, as well as his People’s National Party counterpart, Peter Phillips, should ­voluntarily agree to report to Parliament quarterly, but no longer than every six months, on actions in their organisations against corruption, including complaints against members of parliament, senators and party officers. Eventually, this requirement should find itself into legislation as part of the reporting conditions of registered political parties, and campaign financing rules.