Mon | Oct 23, 2017

Trevor Munroe | Get cracking on curbing corruption

Published:Sunday | April 30, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Trevor Munroe
Jamaica money
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Below are excerpts of Professor Trevor Munroe's address to the Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commissions and Anti-Corruption Bodies (CCAICACB) Conference.

Corruption is not Third World phenomenon. In 2008, more than 100 United Kingdom construction companies were fined a total of almost 130 million pounds for contractors' collusion. And in Canada, the government of Quebec, in 2012, established a Commission of Enquiry on the Awarding and Management of Public Contracts in the Construction Industry, which heard evidence of collusion between major engineering companies and public officials and a 'mafia tax' of 30 per cent on the industry.

So, we are really talking about corruption in infrastructure that hits the Jamaican people in May Pen a week ago with flooding, but also impacts, in one form or another, citizens all over the world - whether in Lusaka, Mumbai, Montreal or London. But as we all know, corruption in infrastructure is but one form of the global malady. There is corruption:

- In the banking and financial sector. In 2012, HSBC admitted to widespread anti-money-laundering violations, including taking over US$800 million from notorious Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. In 2015, the United Nations Office on drugs and crime estimated the amount of money laundered globally each year is two to five per cent of global GDP or $800 billion-$2 trillion in current US dollars.

- In transnational corporations, paying massive bribes to foreign public officials. Ten years ago, the World Bank estimated bribe payments at US$1 trillion.

- Then, of course, there is development assistance from our international partners, 30 per cent of which is estimated to be lost because of corruption.

- Grand political corruption where political leaders at the highest level are bought by way of illicit campaign donations and political contributions.

The United Nations, taking all of this into account, estimated that "corruption, bribery, theft and tax evasion cost some US$1.26 trillion for developing countries per year". No wonder, therefore, that in its global conference on sustainable development the UN organisation declared that for mankind to achieve sustainable development, the international community had "to substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all its forms".

To accomplish this reduction demands a substantial anti-corruption agenda, set out comprehensively in the sections of the United Nations Convention against Corruption. This agenda includes partnership between civil-society organisations and governments; the establishment of robust codes of conduct for public officials; the resocialisation of young people; ethics training at all levels; international cooperation, crossborder exchange of information and mutual legal assistance; anti-corruption legislation, effective anti-corruption institution building, and robust law enforcement.

 

'CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER'

 

It should be noted that Jamaica's National Security Policy describes 'corruption of elected and public officials' and other institutions of the State as a 'Tier 1, high-impact, high-probability threat, clear and present danger' to national security and economic prosperity. Too often, those who considered themselves 'untouchable' are indeed left untouched by the criminal justice system and by the inadequacy of legislation. There are, however, positive signs in both regards, very often outside our region.

Take the issue of legislation: Jamaica is on the road to securing important firsts In the Caribbean with still-pending legislation on party registration, campaign-finance reform and the establishment of a director of corruption prosecutions; the UK Bribery Act 2010 breaks new ground in imposing a statutory liability on heads of corporations to ensure robust anti-corruption mechanisms or themselves be held culpable for infractions by lower-level officials that may have been avoided had such a framework been in place.

On the investigation, prosecution and conviction challenges of anti-corruption governance, there have been some success outside the region. For example, powerful companies have had to pay substantial fines: HSBC US$1.9 billion; BNP Paribas $8.9 billion; Credit Suisse $2.6 billion; CEO of Enron, Jeff Skilling, sentenced to 24 years; Bernie Madoff in 2008 - 150 years in prison.

 

POLITICAL LEADERS PUNISHED

 

Among political leaders, prime ministers and presidents have been convicted for corruption and sent to prison, most notably Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, and many are now answering corruption charges before the courts, most notably the former president of South Korea and the former president of Brazil.

In the US, during Obama's presidency, seven members of Congress were jailed for corruption. In the UK, arising from the corrupt abuse of parliamentary allowances, five members of parliament were investigated, tried, convicted and sent to jail.

How are we meeting similar governance challenges here in Jamaica and, perhaps, similarly in the wider Caribbean. First, we have absolutely no challenge in relation to the most robust declarations repeated and sustained over many decades by our political, business and other leaders stating how much they are against corruption, intend to pass anti-corruption legislation and, most of all, ensure that the corrupt are punished in an exemplary fashion. Each Jamaican prime minister, in the inaugural presentation, proclaims anti-corruption intentions, reinforcing election manifestos, calling for integrity in public life. A few weeks ago, on March 21, our prime minister declared in his Budget presentation to Parliament: "The corruption that allows illegal guns and ammunition to come through our ports must be stopped ... . The corruption that ... denies the grant of a permit in order to secure payment must be stopped ... . This Government is serious about ensuring the highest standards of probity and accountability." A few days later, our new leader of the Opposition declared that "too many areas of our national lives, including our politics, have been scared by corruption". This acknowledgement and declaration of intent are not new.

 

REAL CHALLENGE

 

The real challenge facing all of us, facing our governance system, is how to translate these laudable words into, anti-corruption legislation, robust institution building and courageous law enforcement.

Let me give you some examples. The contractor general's annual report of 2013 found that 137 unregistered contractors were engaged by public bodies and received sums amounting to more than quarter-billion Jamaican dollars - no prosecution, no conviction, no penalty. Between 2009 and 2012, the contractor general recommended 40 prosecutions of public officials, some of them highly placed; result - no prosecutions. In 2012, the Private Sector Working Group on tax reform, consisting of a broad cross section of more than 60 business associations, submitted to the Taxation Committee of Parliament that there should be "visible imposition of criminal sanction (including jail time) against large tax evaders (i.e., making an example)." Result - no imposition of criminal sanction against large tax evaders. Since independence 55 years ago, one minister of government investigated, prosecuted, and served jail time for corruption. Our international partners have commented in their US State Department's International Narcotics Control Strategy Report with reference to Jamaica: "... Corruption remains entrenched, widespread, and compounded by a judicial system that has a poor record of successfully prosecuting corruption cases against high-level law enforcement and government officials ... ." In the six years leading up to 2015, there were 97 prosecutions for money laundering and 10 convictions.

Arising from these deficits, the Jamaican Government and Parliament:

- Passed amendments to the Representation of People Act (ROPA) to require the registration of political parties, their regulation and to make provision for a modicum of public funding (2014).

- Passed amendments to election law to provide for campaign-finance reform. This was assented to by the governor general in February 2016.

- Developed legislation providing for the establishment of a special prosecutor for corruption in the Integrity Commission Act, bringing together the three anti-corruption agencies. This bill was passed by the House of Representatives in February 2017. This followed a commitment and initial attempts at such legislation made by Prime Minister Bruce Golding in May 2010, commitments by the governor general in the Throne Speech of 2012 and again in 2016, and strong support from the Office of the Contractor General.

The immediate challenge is therefore how to speed up long-pending legislation and to ensure more effective law enforcement. I believe experience is demonstrating and reconfirming that this requires a number of factors:

- Renewed building of public awareness and public demand regarding the urgency of anti-corruption legislation and law-enforcement.

- More productive parliament: it cannot be acceptable given the urgency of the legislative agenda that among comparable Commonwealth countries, the Jamaican (and perhaps the Caribbean) legislature has the lowest number of annual sittings. In 2015, the United Kingdom House of Commons sat 140 times; Kenya - 128; India - 72; Australia - 75; Canada - 81; New Zealand - 88 and; Jamaica - 56. Our Parliaments must meet more frequently.

- The professionalism of officers in the law enforcement community and the criminal justice system must be enhanced, particularly in resisting political interference, in ensuring autonomy. In this regard, the bill now before Parliament to establish the autonomy of the Major Organised Crime Anti-corruption Agency (MOCA) in the manner of an FBI needs to be dealt with expeditiously.

- The legislature needs to urgently strengthen the penalties for a wide range of offences, including those related to corruption.