Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Imani Duncan-Price | Politics: ethics and responsibility

Published:Sunday | January 29, 2017 | 1:00 AM
Imani Duncan-Price

My Gleaner article of January 8, 2017, 'Rebuilding trust: lie-detector tests for politicians?', sparked a significant number of responses from a range of people. Most persons agreed it would be a good start to rebuilding trust between the citizenry and those who sit in central and local government. However, a few thought it an impossible option. As one person said, "You really expect politicians to agree to submit themselves to a lie-detector test?!"

I expect politicians and the wider Jamaica to be significantly alarmed at the results of the Office of the Contractor General's (OCG) national survey on youth and corruption, and move to thoughtful, deliberate action. Doing nothing is not an option. While a proposed solution may not be perfect, it does not mean we stall further thought or action.

Remember these facts from the OCG survey of youth aged 10-19 across Jamaica:

- Forty-one per cent think truth-telling is not valued in Jamaica.

- Thirty-five per cent thought that people who are more corrupt and lacking in integrity are more likely to succeed.

- Twenty per cent either paid or cheated to pass an exam.

- Forty per cent thought it unacceptable to report those who cheat on an exam.

- Twenty-three per cent think lottery scamming is okay and not harmful to society.

And to seal the deal, "the police, bus conductors and politicians were regarded as the professional groups that are the most corrupt and least transparent". Bearing in mind that not all the police, bus conductors and politicians are corrupt, this matter of the perception and the reality where it exists has to be dealt with - starting with us, politicians.

It's critical as young people mimic what they think they see. With the next generation having a normalised view of corruption, it is incumbent on us to do something now to stop further erosion of the core values of society. This is directly tied to the rampant disregard for the rule of law and Jamaica's crime and violence.

I maintain that if polygraphs/lie-detector tests are used in the recruitment process for Jamaica's police force to stem corruption in that critical area, why can't politicians have the same requirement on offering themselves for public service? After all, the focus is on rebuilding people's trust in those who have access to, or influence over, public funds. Politicians have a higher level of accountability.

 

Stone Report: Basis for Action

 

The discussion over the last three weeks has yielded additional recommendations as we seek to rebuild trust between politicians and the public. The 1991 Report of the "Stone Committee appointed to advise the Jamaican Government on the performance, accountability and responsibilities of elected parliamentarians" is an excellent point of reference.

The committee, under the leadership of the late Professor Carl Stone, noted political sociologist and pollster, was established by the then prime minister, Michael Manley. It was bipartisan, comprising members of the main political parties, including Ronnie Thwaites and Oswald Harding, as well as leaders in wider society such as Lloyd Barnett and the Rev Oliver Daley.

It received written submissions from a wide cross section of Jamaicans and also had the benefit of a national public opinion survey to inform its recommendations. In addition, they garnered input from 60 per cent of the then members of parliament (MPs), as well as 57 per cent of former MPs. Suffice to say that this was a well-informed committee and report.

Professor Stone, in the introduction of the report, stated that they sought to "set an agenda for possible solutions at a time when some 40 per cent of the voters of our country have become very disillusioned with politics and political leaders, and the majority of our country's citizens wish to see some fundamental changes in our political system to enable political institutions to better serve the people's needs and interests".

That was written 26 years ago! Prior to 1989, voter apathy was at approximately 20 per cent.

Stone's statement still rings true, but now 52 per cent of voters don't participate in the process. Do we continue to pontificate, or will political leadership and citizen action actually engage in the discourse and do something meaningful to re-establish confidence and trust?

Job Description Already Written

Sometimes it is not necessary to recreate the wheel, but just put some energy behind it to move the wheel along. Here I share some of the 16 recommended duties and responsibilities of elected MPs in the Stone Report.

- Representing ALL citizens in the constituency.

- Working with, and accepting, accountability to a Constituency Council (comprising all councillors and representatives of local NGOs, churches and community-based organisations).

- Meeting with constituency in scheduled public meetings each year to give account of constituency management.

- Formulating a constituency development budget with a priority list of major projects.

- Administering the local development fund (now the CDF) in consultation with the Constituency Council.

- Administering scarce benefits on a non-partisan basis.

The report further recommended that if the MP failed to perform his or her duties and responsibilities satisfactorily, they should be vulnerable to a 'recall petition' by voters. This recommended accountability mechanism required 51 per cent of voters of the constituency.

The Stone Report also laid out 18 elements in a recommended Code of Ethics for MPs. Below is a list of some of the most relevant ones given that the issue of distrust needs to be addressed:

- MPs should conduct themselves in a manner that earns the respect and trust of their constituents.

- MPs should do everything possible to fight against corruption, extravagance, dishonesty and violence in public and political life.

- MPs should respect the law and refrain from supporting lawlessness.

- MPs should not seek to acquire personal gain from public office.

- In Parliament, MPs should maintain a vigilant watch over the country's affairs, challenging and questioning, where necessary, the actions of the government or the political executive (and this includes more active backbenchers on both sides of the aisle).

Again, the Stone Report recommended that violation of this code of conduct should render an MP liable to recall petition by voters in the constituency.

Some MPs and, indeed, councillors are already doing some of these things and should rightfully be commended.

Imagine the impact if this was standardised for all MPs and councillors!

Let us consider what we can create together to accelerate the process, all of us working together to rebuild trust in our political processes and politicians. It does not matter if you are JLP, PNP or no P.

What matters is the commitment to get the wheel turning in a meaningful way for Jamaica. The data indicate that we must act with the urgency of now!

- Imani Duncan-Price is co-executive director of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and former senator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and fullticipation@gmail.com.