Mon | Sep 25, 2017

The Pryce is right: full disclosure for lobbyists

Published:Sunday | September 13, 2015 | 9:00 AMDr Orville Taylor, Contributor

Although I hold no brief for North East St Elizabeth Member of Parliament Raymond Pryce, I fully back his private motion that non-governmental organisations (NGO) and lobbies must open to scrutiny their sources of funding. It is such a no-brainer that one can only speculate that those persons opposed to it have something to hide and are afraid that transparency will reveal an entire cemetery and not just skeletons in their closets.

Lobby NGOs are not powerless, neutral or harmless. And nothing says that they are inherently nationalist, putting the interest of the nation and its citizens above any parochial concerns. They are activists that push for, and often achieve, change in the way the society is being governed. This may be simple policy decisions or they may be legislative changes, and even modifications to our supreme statute, the Constitution. It is not that their mandate is to look about the welfare and interests of their members or interest groups only. Rather, their activities affect everyone living in Jamaica.

In the academy, we fully understand the adage, 'He who pays the piper calls the tune.' Therefore, despite all the academic rigour we use in trying to make our research solid, we can sometimes be compromised in not wishing to present the major finding if it puts our backers in an unfavourable light.

For example, if the employers' confederation (EC) pays me to do a study on the bias in the legislation regarding termination of employment, the salient chasm in the statute might be the lack of protection for workers during redundancy and the extent to which 70 per cent of its members use it to disenfranchise workers.

However, the minor finding, that a small five per cent of bankrupt employers might genuinely not have the ability to pay, would be what my financiers would want me to talk about. And it would not be a lie, although deeply deceptive.

Thus, the minor finding, though true, will be the one more publicised because it suits the EC's agenda, while the more imposing, but very damning major finding will likely be suppressed.

It is not unusual for interest groups and mercenary social activists to present caricatures or exaggerated views of some aspect of Jamaican society, simply because they want to achieve their narrow goals or follow the almighty dollar. Oftentimes, these images are so skewed and harmful to the country that it can be deemed unpatriotic.

The wrong picture can result in Jamaica getting sanctioned, blacklisted, our aid reduced, or investors staying away because our fish in Jamaican waters say, "Shark dung a bottom!" Many times it is two small, harmless 'tiki tiki' dogfish, but they are still sharks.

However, while the lobbyists may get their pound of flesh, the country is sinking, but all is good, because they got what they wanted and their funding is used to do whatever they please. Does one understand that pest-control operators lose money if the evidence is that the cockroach population is decreasing and security companies make a killing from high homicide rates?

 

HUMAN TRAFFICKING

 

Who benefits from the lobbying? Let us start with human trafficking. An adverse human trafficking report can spell disaster for the country. Yet, in writing a proposal for funding from USAID, for example, a researcher engaged by an NGO has to demonstrate that it is a major problem.

Similarly, the activists who took up the plight of the New Kingston gully empire had to portray them as victims sui generis who are chased from their homes by a rabidly homophobic society. The fact that large numbers of them were simply criminals hiding under their poorly done make-up and knock-off dresses and heels was an inconvenient truth until they robbed and assaulted one of the very activists.

AIDS activists who get funding from external gay lobbies might find it convenient to state, without supporting evidence, that homophobia prevents their members from accessing government health care, despite many of the workers in this subsector being themselves gay. And, if we show the truth, that Jamaica's homophobic murders are proportionally half the American rate, I bet that the funding gets reduced.

Even the National Integrity Action (NIA) is not exempt. I've stood with my colleague, friend and fellow Georgian, Trevor Munroe, as he called for greater transparency and less corruption in government. However, why is it that in the annual report on corruption in Jamaica, the major finding was that 86 per cent of Jamaicans 'believe', not 'proved', that the Jamaican police are corrupt?

 

CORRUPTION PERCEPTION INDEX

 

And why is it such a big deal that the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is 38 per cent when all it does is measure what people think, not what they have experienced or seen? Isn't it strange that no one paid attention to the fact that in terms of measures of corruption, we are actually better than the United States and United Kingdom? And if it were publicised that less than 10 per cent of Jamaicans ever have to pay a bribe, the funding might dry up, because only six per cent of us have ever bribed 'Yu Hanna', but 15 per cent of Americans have greased the palms of 'Yer Honner' and 21 per cent of Brits have sweetened 'Mi Lord and Mi Lady'.

And as for the Church, wouldn't you want to know which benefactor has contributed to the building of the new church hall? Don't you sometimes wonder why the Church is so silent on some matters until you see one of its major clergymen on a political podium? Wouldn't you want to know if there is any reason that the Sunday churches have long condoned horse racing on Saturday, although one out of every 10 Jamaicans is a Sabbath keeper? Perhaps, if you go to Mass on Sunday and sit with the head of gambling houses, before he goes up and says, 'Amen,' while 'gapping' for the wafer, you might get the answer.

So, whether or not the clenched orange fists back him, he must not relent. Despite the homophone in his name, this Pryce must not go down. He must stand his ground and bow to no one.

- Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the 2013-14 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. His just-published book, 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets', is now available at the UWI Bookshop. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.