Wed | May 24, 2017

Ian Boyne | The root of corruption

Published:Sunday | May 14, 2017 | 5:51 AMIan Boyne

The Gleaner’s focus on corruption beginning today will, predictably, concentrate on legislation, regulations, systems, processes and institutional reform. All of that is absolutely necessary but not sufficient in dealing with corruption in Jamaica. We have to tackle corruption at its root — and that has to do with values, culture.

Make no mistake: There are new laws to be enacted and those on the books to be strictly enforced. The prime minister needs to speed up legislation to deal with impeachment of corrupt politicians and public officials. The contractor general must not just be highlighting corruption and recommending prosecution, but we must start seeing some big uptown people hauled off to jail.

However, even if we have the best legislation, the finest procedures and systems to catch the corrupt, there would still be loopholes that the clever could exploit if we fail to foster a culture that prizes morality.

We shy away from discussing morality and values for we don’t want to appear preachy. But unless this society overcomes its money-above-all mentality, our struggle against corruption will be futile. In a money-above-all culture, which is strongly reinforced in dancehall and other areas of popular culture, we are deprived of the moral resources to effectively fight corruption. The prime minister announced his HOPE programme last week aimed at getting 15,000 unattached youth employed under an apprenticeship programme.

But if a young man is brainwashed with the money-above-all mentality, why would he choose to get a small stipend in an apprenticeship programme when he can get “real rich", as Tanto Blacks calls it, through lotto scamming? Why should he value a skill and “earning a decent living” (a matter of values) over a criminal enterprise that can afford him all the bling, girls and 'ratings' he can get?

The most powerful young technocrat in Government, Dr Nigel Clarke, was at pains on Nationwide at Five last week to explain that if that monster called crime could just be contained, the “five-in-four” growth target would be no fantasy. If we had a society that valued morality over money, Dr Clarke, your task would not be so hard. Lotto scamming and gang-related activities largely account for Jamaica’s high crime rate. It’s the money-above-all culture that feeds crime.

PHILOSOPHY OF MATERIALISM

Professor Carl Stone is dead right: “The dominance of money as the single most important currency of influence power and status, and the decline of respectability as a status-defining factor, have promoted increased and rampant corruption both in government and in the private sector corporate world.”

Dr Lucien Jones, in one of the most insightful GraceKennedy Foundation lectures, admonished, “The minds of those who are held captive by the philosophy of materialism must be transformed. They see their salvation in … more money, increasing possessions and the ability to indulge in whatever their appetites demand.”

He noted that they measure “the value of life by the amount of money that has been accumulated, (and) the possessions they have acquired”. People with that kind of mentality will find no hope in your programme, Mr Prime Minister. They're​ not into that. They are into what can give them quick cash, nuff bling. The same time that you are developing progranmes like HOPE, you have to be developing high-impact programmes to deal with the values of the people.

In another insightful Grace Kennedy Foundation lecture ('Moral Dis-ease Making Jamaica Ill? Re-engaging the Conversation'), theologian Dr Anna Perkins said: “Today we are faced with the necessity of re-engaging the discussion of morality in a fashion that makes it a national as well as a personal priority; the concern not only of priests and parsons but also of political leaders, civil servants, dancehall DJs, business people, academics and civil society.”

She went on to say (but who is really listening?): “Morality must be a central part of our national discourse because it will take moral people with shared values to craft the kind of society that will take us into our 2030 vision of Jamaica as a place of choice to live, work and raise families.”

And one of the country’s premier theologians, the Rev Dr Burchell Taylor, said in his own GraceKennedy Foundation lecture in 1992 that “one of the most urgent needs confronting the society at the moment is for morality to be given a necessary central place in our social order and existence — in our social-economic, political and cultural and cultural policies and in our policy orientation".

But our elute is purely economistic and technocratic. They see only the quantitative. If it can’t be measured, it is not important. Theirs is a crude empiricism.

But Opposition Leader Peter Phillips was in church last Sunday and he spoke. According to a press release from his party, “Dr Phillips said that the Church is critical and should be the heart of what is done to overcome the nation’s challenges.” Dr Phillips gets it. “We need unity of people in action to move the country forward and strengthen the family.” Dr Phillips seems to want to inspire a new national conversation but, not surprisingly, nobody is advancing the discussion. Our elite is tone deaf where issues of values are concerned. It's not quantitative, you see.

DEFICIENT CULTURE

Speaking to young people on his listening tour days ago, Phillips was quoted in another party release as saying, “We can’t be in a country where a man feels a sense of pride in having five baby mothers,” he lamented directly engaging our deficient culture.

Phillips then linked our high crime rate with the destruction of our family life and the emotional void that boys feel as a result of their fatherlessness. He mentioned “the Fatherless Crew that terrorised sections of the Corporate Area”. Said Phillips: “They were acting out that void and hurt that they felt because of that missing paternal element in their lives.”

Standing against corruption requires people of character. People of character are not those who put money over everything. They will risk their material welfare for principle. They will stay in poverty rather than compromise their principles. What gives people that strength of character? Often it is their religious commitment.

In an intriguing essay in the highly respected journal, The International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion (April 2016), 'A Moral Reason to be a Mere Theist: The Practical Argument', Professor Xiaofei Liu from China, one of the most corrupt countries in the world, says: “It requires extraordinary courage and resolution for, say, a lawyer to risk punishment to help an innocent dissident to escape political persecution, or for a scholar to risk his career to speak up for truth and justice. In such circumstances, people need to firmly believe in the overriding importance of morality in order to overcome desires that pull them in the opposite direction.”

Suppose corruption enables you to take care of your family? What would keep you from it? I remember notorious Shower Posse strongman Vivian Blake saying after he was deported here that he would do nothing differently. 'The Breakfast Club' hosts seemed shocked , but Blake explained: “I lost my job. I had to live. I had my children to look after, and my grandmother. I used to see her fridge empty. I had to live.”

Money above all. Liu is instructive: “Evil does not usually work in a way that repulses us. An attorney may be promised money he desperately needs for a life-saving surgery on his ailing child, if he stops defending a political dissident. The gravest moral adversity is usually one that promises something sweet in return.” That is why we need to build a culture where morality is valued over money. Otherwise, our foundation for dealing with corruption is shaky.

- Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist working with the Jamaica Information Service. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ianboyne1@yahoo.com