Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Ian Boyne | Collaring corruption

Published:Sunday | June 4, 2017 | 6:00 AM

A global public opinion survey on corruption found that 74 per cent of respondents in Jamaica felt our Parliament is corrupt or extremely corrupt, and 86 per cent and 85 per cent felt that the police and political parties were, respectively, corrupt or extremely corrupt. Frighteningly, too, 47 per cent felt our judiciary was corrupt or extremely corrupt.

In another poll, 78 per cent of Jamaicans said they did not trust the Government. These are some of the sobering facts contained in the latest study of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI), which will be officially released this week and which was announced at public forum held on Monday. "Over the past decade, the country has consistently registered low scores on the Corruption Perception Index, leaning towards the 'highly corrupt' end of the spectrum and giving credence to the nation that corruption is, indeed, a serious problem," CAPRI says in its 54-page study.

Jamaica dropped 14 places on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in 2016, ranking 83rd among 175 countries. And in the latest Rule of Law Index 2016 report of the World Justice Project, Jamaica ranked 47 out of 113 countries and 12 out of 30 regionally. Yet, CAPRI shows that our problem is not so much the lack of a strong anti-corruption framework. "Jamaica has a formidable and extensive anti-corruption framework of laws and institutions, inclusive of international treaties. However, the existing institutional framework does not appear to significantly deter corrupt activities in the public sector. Why this apparent disconnect? Seemingly, the existing laws against corruption are not regularly and effectively enforced."

People know that despite laws on the books and a relatively good institutional framework, they can get away with corruption. People are not being prosecuted.

 

PUNISHING OFFENDERS A STEP FORWARD

A high likelihood of being caught and severely punished would be a major disincentive to corruption. In Jamaica, people in polite society say the right things against corruption, the corrupt cabal knows it stops there. The CAPRI study needles the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP): "Often exhibited is what appears to be a reluctance to prosecute corruption-related cases. For example, in the 2009 Office of the Contractor General report, it was stated that more than 30 referrals for criminal offences had been made to the DPP, between the date March 5, 2008, and December 31, 2009, of which none gave rise to any criminal charge, arrest or prosecution. Also, in 2015, the DPP did not order an investigation of a former mayor for nepotism and impropriety in the award of public contracts until taken to court by the contractor general. A Committee of Experts from the Inter-American Convention against Corruption has suggested that the country address the lack of prosecutions being carried out by the Office of the DPP for corruption and corruption-related offences."

Another problem highlighted by the study is that, in instances where persons are prosecuted for corruption, the penalties are negligible, therefore, effectively offering no deterrent. "Thus, when corruption is alleged but is not investigated, prosecuted or attracts negligible penalties, the public's perception of corruption is that it is a low-risk, high-reward activity, and this encourages such acts."

The study notes that interviews with stakeholders from various anti-corruption institutions cited resource constraints as a major factor inhibiting their work. Says the study: "The anti-corruption institutions are often dysfunctional, due to structural deficiencies and inadequate resources. In a recent report, the US Department of State cited that an 'overburdened, under-resourced and dysfunctional judicial system' was the most serious human-rights issue in Jamaica. Another US report highlighted that the judiciary has a poor record of successfully prosecuting corruption cases and, therefore, lacked transparency."

CAPRI says, "This poor reputation of the judiciary" was underscored, as some 159 corruption cases were pending in the courts from 2008 to 2015. CAPRI is convinced that weak political will is hobbling Jamaica's ability to tame crime. "The anti-corruption framework in Jamaica, on paper, is quite potent. However, its effectiveness is stymied by faint political will, that is, the genuine commitment and support from key stakeholders to proactively and diligently fight corruption." That's a pretty strong charge.

CAPRI sees the action of the political class as merely expedient and pragmatic, not coming from a place of deep, resolute conviction. It observes that the Representation of the People Act (2014) was passed in 2015 and agreed to in February 2016, yet it says the law is "notably deficient" not requiring public disclosure of contributions below $1 million is one such deficiency identified.

"Similarly, the new Government has recently declared its commitment to combat corruption (as have successive governments) and has brought legislation to the Parliament to establish a single national anti-corruption institution ... . The Integrity Commission Act was subsequently passed in the Lower House at the end of January 2017. However, this appeared to be a knee-jerk reaction to Jamaica's recent dip in the latest CPI ranking, which was released a few days earlier on January 25. Such 'reactions' give the appearance that the leaders of the nation pass laws to quell public outcry, with no sincere commitment to address corruption in the country." Ouch!

The CAPRI study makes an important point about the "cultural acceptance of corruption" in Jamaica something I wrote about recently. In Jamaica, corruption is a normalised deviance.

 

TACKLING CORRUPTION CULTURALLY

 

Corruption cannot be just tackled at the institutional level. It has to be tackled culturally. We have a tendency to throw laws and regulations at corruption or to talk about constitutional change. All these will amount to little if, at a deep cultural and personal level, we don't have people who value integrity. In a significant one-liner, CAPRI says: "Among the ... most frequently cited source of corruption in Jamaica was greed." I have written extensively about this obsession with materialism and how it has fuelled our corruption, but we tend to sidestep moral and philosophical issues. We think laws and institutions will solve all our problems.

"The country suffers from systemic corruption, as corruption is shown to exist at all levels of the society and pervades several public institutions." Because corruption is "pervasive across all levels of society", CAPRI, in an admirable survey of best practices in other countries, ends up recommending, primarily, a Citizen Feedback Monitoring Programme that operates in Pakistan. This is a complaint system in which the Government proactively reaches out to citizens via recorded call or SMS to seek their feedback on public services.

But there is a bigger issue of corruption that is regularly missed in our national discourse. Interestingly, it is hinted at in another significant one-liner in this study that refers to politicians "purposely promoting policies to aid big business allies over policies necessary to improve ... health care and education". This is a significant aspect of the anti-corruption agenda that Professor Trevor Munroe is most suitable to lead with his strong schooling in Marxian class analysis.

Trevor knows that when elites promote their own interests over the public good that is a form of corruption and misuse of power given to them by the masses in democratic elections. It is a corrupt use of power to benefit the propertied and moneyed classes over the interests of the people. But in our neo-liberal bubble, people in the anti-corruption lobby shy away from this. Yet a number of important books by social scientists have been rolling off the press recently, focusing on the abuse of power by elites who suppress the interests of the people.

Books such as The Crisis of the Middle Class Constitution, The One Per Cent Solution, and Economism have all shown how elites use power in their own interests and actively work against the interests of workers and the mass of the population. We have not given enough attention to institutionalised corruption of power by elite rule.

When Big Business exerts inordinate influence over public policy and uses access to the political class to advance its own interests, that is corruption. It is about time we put that on the anti-corruption agenda.

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