Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Orville Taylor | Perception corrupting reality

Published:Sunday | January 29, 2017 | 1:00 AM

One of the reasons I continue to teach Plantation Society Theory is that the whole process of enslavement and the colonial heritage have done such a wonderful job on us that we believe anything that metropolitan nations and personnel say about us. Even when the facts are standing in front of us like four-day-old cabbage water, we hold on to a version of reality that someone else dictates. Once more, the international watchdog entity, Transparency International, has published its findings regarding the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), and this time, Jamaica has slipped 14 places down to 83 out of 176 countries surveyed.

More telling is that the CPI, which, as the name suggests, is the belief in the extent of corruption that exists in the country, has declined from 41 in 2015 to the low and unimpressive 39 in 2016.

Why can't my fellow commentators, analysts and reporters recognise that the CPI is NOT a measure of corruption but rather what people think is the degree of corruption in a country? And if you think that the difference between perception and reality doesn't matter, ask the countryman whether the water in the river is deep or whether he thinks it is deep before you dive in.

What I want to know is not what someone or what the average person feels is the level of corruption in my country. I want to know who is taking bribes, and how many people have suffered at the hands of public officials.

Perception and belief might help when we are dealing with matters of faith. But in the same way that we blind our eyes and believe that something is in the Bible because someone in authority says it is, although it is scripturally absent, it is a disservice to the wonderful mind that God has given us if all we do is focus on someone's opinion. This is Jamaica in which we live. We abuse gays and kill them wantonly and even refuse to elect them to Parliament. Our press is Third World and biased, women enjoy low status here because like most underdeveloped nations, there is heavy gender discrimination. And like black families in the USA, most households are female-headed. By the way, Jamaican cops kill more unarmed (black) suspects for every one police officer killed by criminals, compared to their American counterparts.

 

CAN'T BELIEVE ANYTHING

 

Yet, none of the above is true, but we believe it, and when I say otherwise, I often hear, "You can't believe anything black man seh."

Did you know that in a small survey, 85 per cent of Jamaicans interviewed coloured blank pictures of the fruit orange in orange, instead of yellow, and almost everyone coloured the crocodile green? We are so ignorant and blind that we say, "John Crow sey him pickney white," but never bother to check the facts that it is absolutely true.

So if we can't even believe our own eyes, what would it take for us to blindly swallow negative perceptions?

My friend Professor Trevor Munroe, head of National Integrity Action (NIA), will hasten to tell you that despite the work that has to be done, Jamaica is not one of the most corrupt countries in the world - not even close. Yes, the green pre-Christmas bush-clearing and other 'scandals' have brought scrutiny and some embarrassment to our elected officials. However, the truth is, we are an open society with a contractor general, auditor general, Public Accounts Committee, Broadcasting Commission, INDECOM, public defender, political ombudsman, and myriad lobbies such as Jamaicans for Justice and many others.

Indeed, our press is ranked the freest in the Americas and women in Jamaican media enjoy the best status anywhere in the world. Check the gender balance in our judiciary; look north and compare. Therefore, in a society where many channels exist for the detection and punishment of corruption, there will be disproportionate reporting of impropriety of government officials. In very venal societies, the press is as silent as flatulence in a model's changing room, or journalists and media houses are bought to further the interests of the powerful degenerates.

Transparency did note that USA's CPI dropped two points to reach 74, and remarked that his government appointments were "rife with potential conflicts of interest". This is not an anomaly.

Little has been reported here that Transparency International USA (TIUSA), based in Washington, DC, has been stripped of its accreditation by Transparency. Although it labels itself as "a non-partisan, non-profit organisation dedicated to strengthening integrity and combating corruption in the United States and internationally", Transparency found that TIUSA was largely funded by the very corporate entities that it monitors and that its board of directors comprised business attorneys who work for and defend these corporations.

Sarah Chayes, author of Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, raked TIUSA's refusal to address America's institutionalised corporate corruption, which she identifies as systemic, "legalised bribery". For her, TIUSA has, instead, kept its gaze on corruption "in Third-World countries". It's the only branch of TI that does not look within the society in which it is based.

We in Jamaica haven't even bothered to look beyond perception. A recent study done under the aegis of USAID, Vanderbilt University, and my own plantation, the University of the West Indies, showed that just over nine per cent of Jamaicans ever had to pay a bribe for anything. Yes, 'we corrupt but we nuh so bad!'

Let's look deeper than the headlines.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.