Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Gordon Robinson | Why corruption's our best friend

Published:Sunday | May 28, 2017 | 5:06 AMGordon Robinson

‘Corruption’ has become a buzzword in Jamaica.

Many inveigh against the monster daily. Yet, people who call on Government to take a stand against corruption start quarrelling about lost fiefdoms when action is proposed. No alternatives are suggested. No change is the mantra. In pursuit of the Holy Grail of corruption control, zealous public servants earnestly collect ‘statements’; produce ‘reports’ many abusing statutory privilege to injure innocent public servants’ reputations; and ‘refer’ named individuals to the DPP for prosecution. Some seem offended should the DPP express a contrary opinion.

My sense of justice still smarts when I recall how a misconceived report from the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), riddled with flawed reasoning and misunderstanding of the logistics of simulcast horse racing, was used to drum legal luminary and iconic patriot Patrick Rousseau, OJ, out of office as CTL chairman. The arrangement ‘investigated’ involves the award to Government of a licence to receive an essential television signal from the sole licence holder worldwide.

The OCG knew more about building rocket ships than horse racing, so was oblivious to the fact that the organisation making the original complaint was itself conflicted and had a self-serving motive. CTL had no option but to enter into the arrangement and did so, in identical terms, without a murmur of opposition, as soon as a new board was appointed. Anti-corruption, schmanti-corruption! We definitely won’t reduce corruption until we learn to recognise it.

So, everybody wants an end to corruption but, apart from creating one ‘anti-corruption’ agency after another, what’s our REAL solution? We have INDECOM, the Integrity Commission, the OCG, MOCA, POCA, SOCA, CISOCA, CDA, OCA and a Fraud Squad. Yet our lowly position on the Corruption Perception Index remains in the terrible 30s (latest 39 in 2016; peaked at 41 in 2015).

Our beloved partner, China, scores only 40. What a corrupt couple we make! No wonder land is gifted and Chinese permitted to introduce cash-only toll roads. Jamaica rates above Mexico (30) and Indonesia (37), but below Turkey (40), Brazil (40), and India (40). Yikes!

NO DECREASE SEEN

So, FACT: Our big, bad barking bulldogs of anti-corruption have failed to reduce Jamaica’s corruption levels. Governments can combine them, add more, or howl at the moon. As the Rawhide Kid, one of my childhood heroes, would say, “It won’t make no never mind.” Corruption will thrive. It’ll poison progress and prosperity.

To effectively attack corruption, we must honestly identify the root of corruption. Nobody bothers with this for the simple reason that nobody sincerely wants change because it’ll mash up their own dolly house. But those of us determined not to die in the same cesspool of corruption into which we were born must bell that cat.

Once again, we’re deliberately misled about the reason for corruption, hence we keep attacking it ass backwards. Jamaicans are NOT born corrupt. We have NO ‘culcha’ of corruption. That’s an illusion politicians use to keep us in the dark, voting every five years. TRUTH: Jamaica was designed and constituted to facilitate corruption.

By trying to fit a colonial-style Westminster system of government into what was intended to be an independence Constitution, founding fathers fundamentally erred. Jamaica never recovered. Because of colonial brainwashing, we failed to appreciate that the British system, based on a tradition of handshakes and conventions (because a monarch can’t be circumscribed by law) shouldn’t be imported into written constitutions, especially in small countries. As a direct result of 1962’s errors:

No matter how close an election result may be, total power vests in the winning side and, particularly, in the prime minister, who becomes a benevolent dictator. This despite no Jamaican PM ever having polled a single general election vote. 
A PM is constitutionally restricted in selecting his Cabinet to 30-odd parliamentary candidates of dubious qualification, regardless where in Jamaica true managerial talent may lie. Then, his Cabinet size isn’t limited, so the prospect of corruption immediately rears its ugly head, as the PM can reward as many political hacks as he so desires. 
Our winner-take-all electoral system encourages the feathering of personal nests while in power (best to strike while irons are warm). This includes the non-transparent appointment of statutory boards stuffed with politically pliable members to ensure any ‘brawta’ goes to party, minister and self.
There’s no constitutional provision for recall of MP or impeachment of ministers, so we the people must watch impotently as our beloved leaders scrape up all scarce benefits for five interminable years. Jamaica’s Constitution gives citizens NO POWER over their representatives. Ministers impose taxes on a whim. Constitutionally, we’re condemned to self-help methods and, denied proper education, this usually means riot.

Until the Constitution is radically restructured to demolish this Jamaica and rebuild it with systems and institutions that discourage corruption, no amount of refurbishing will get the job done.

A reconstituted Jamaica should include:

- Abolition of the Queen and governor general; fixed election dates; a directly elected prime minister restricted to selecting no more than two parliamentarians in his Cabinet;
- A Cabinet limited to a maximum of 12;
- An independent Parliament to vet and approve all Cabinet and statutory board members;
- Ministers restricted to policy direction. No minister should have any role in issuing any government licence/contract;
- A constitutionally entrenched borrowing limit;
- An elected Senate using proportional representation. Any ‘party’ (to include accredited associations like PSOJ; Bankers’ Association; Bar Association; or Ganja Growers Association) winning five per cent of the vote gets a seat in a 20-seat Senate;
- Every public servant must disclose his and his immediate family’s assets and provide a forensic accounting of those recently acquired;
- Effective recall elections for MPs and impeachment provisions for PMs and ministers;
- Term limits for PMs and MPs; provisions preventing any sitting PM losing an election from running again for PM;
- An independent judiciary with its own budget managed by the Office of the Chief Justice which, together with the appeal court president, nominates members of the Judicial Services Commission to be approved by Parliament and nominates judges for appointment;
- Freedom of the press specifically protected as a fundamental human right.

REMOVE THE POLITICS 

You can add your own building blocks. I must pretend to honour The Gleaner’s word-count limit. Until we take politics out of government like this, anti-corruption agencies can write reports until thy kingdom come. Parliament can ignore every one. The DPP, unable to convict a parliamentarian despite his alleged co-conspirator turning State witness, is unlikely to succeed in punishing any wayward MP anytime soon. 

The police can’t even get a citizen to surrender his licensed firearm or find or seize it, so an innocent schoolboy’s murderer is neither identified nor convicted, despite the police knowing and locating the car from which the fatal bullets were fired. Police believe the best crime-reduction tools are brute force and ignorance. They kill more innocent civilians annually than they convict murderers. Christ on a crutch, we can’t even convict lotto scammers, so we dispatch them to USA like ganja shipments.

The judiciary is kept under the executive’s thumb to the extent that a justice minister can withhold judges’ meagre emoluments for years while publicly denigrating their work.

No democracy in governance; no justice in the courts; no protection from the police; no suitable education; no dependable health care. petrol tax up; health tax up; property tax up; more tax; fewer services. Our Constitution allows it.

What’s our recourse? Corruption, naturally. We welcome corruption. We can’t make as much as Big Man from it, but maybe we can buy a driver’s licence to run a likkle illegal taxi. Jus’ ‘let off to the local cop to turn a blind eye. Maybe we can hustle on the street corner with a dirty wiper and a half-empty water bottle so long as we look fierce enough to frighten female drivers into contributing to our extortion racket.

Maybe we grow big enough to join Big Man and get extortion money from government contracts. Then all we haffe do is kick back to the party (from inflated contract prices, plus permitted overruns) so we can get more government contracts. What about anti-corruption agencies? Cho, a eediat dem. DWL! Dem investigating MP an’ councillor, not we. Den dem jus’ write report. Ah yawd we dey. Run wid it!

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.