Orville Taylor | Corruption, don’t test the youth
For years, my cry has been that our youth need much more credit than we have been giving them, and it's not just their need to scratch off phonecards for calls and data.
In a society hell-bent on telling them that they are the worst of the worst, our young people are showing us that they are very sensible. This society has miseducated our children with Christmas songs about snow, reindeer and sleighs, and nursery rhymes about dish running away with spoon, the cow jumping over the moon, and all that bull. Don't even mention the rub-a-dub and who were in the tub, or which candlestick Jack Nimble and quick jumped over, or the tuffet upon which Miss Muffet sat.
As Peter Tosh warned in the early 1970s, "You can't blame the youth." Yet they keep being bombarded with notions about themselves that are simply not true. It is bad enough that we say that they are children having children, and "dem pickney ya duncer dan we". However, on average, more children are graduating from high school, more are passing eight or more (GCE) CSEC subjects, more have three or more CAPE (A'Levels), and more children are spending more years in high school.
In every single indicator on education, the kids of today are doing better than my generation. True, the elitist education in some institutions such as the two on North Street and the one on the hills in St Elizabeth produced generations of college men who spoke as if they gargled marbles with vocabularies that would give the average teenager a hernia. But that was the exception rather than the rule. And for the record, the age of consent was 14 when I was a teenager, and the only reason why Gangong tells you that she did no 'courtn' until she was an adult was because she was illiterate and innumerate and did not know her birth date.
A recent survey conducted on behalf of the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) by my colleagues from the UWI, two of whom were trained in the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work, revealed that a large number of Jamaican youth understood what it meant to be corrupt and what corruption is. There might be some epistemological problems I might have with the terms, however, when asked pointed questions regarding concrete scenarios, they were very clear as to what is acceptable and not.
Somewhere around 30 per cent of the participants in the study were not able to express what corruption or integrity was. However, when the practical questions came their way, close to 70 per cent of them understood what it really meant. In answering questions as to whether they approved of persons stealing electricity, paying a teacher to get a child into school, or even skipping a line, the rejection rate was more than 80 per cent.
Interestingly, as expected, some 86 per cent of the respondents thought that it was wrong for Officer Dibble to use the Salvation Army salute and hold out his hand with 'corporal tunnel sin-drome'. Equally significant is that around 90 per cent of them disapproved of lotto scamming, and 82 per cent of the sample gave a negative response to the question, "A community leader does something that might be illegal, but it enables your family to live better. Is this acceptable behaviour?" Therefore, we find that our teenagers do not, in fact, look up to dons and criminals. This might seem counterintuitive, but if the average teenager were criminal-minded, this country would be in total chaos.
Children live what they learn, and they have high degrees of corruption perception with in regard to several categories of persons. Police officers at almost 50 per cent (47.7 per cent) had a significant number of youth thinking that they had integrity. For politicians, this figure was 37.1, a damning perception. For whatever it might be worth, bus drivers and conductors were seen as having 44.3 and 45.8 per cent, respectively. Indeed, the latter category of men who handle money and open doors for women have a higher approval rating than politicians.
Nonetheless, in the same study, which is co-written by Lloyd Waller, Gavin Daley, Nicola Satchell, and Omar Hawthorne, whose article I referred to last week, only 14 per cent of these teenagers reported ever observing any corruption. These findings are consistent with my belaboured point that the actual experiencing of corruption is around 10 per cent and not the humongous 80-odd per cent that some people think we have. Thus, by my colleagues' own data, having a Corruption Perception Index (CPI) of 40/100 is not consistent with our reality. We must measure and report on the actual incidents of corruption because the foreigners won't do it for us.
Still, what is encouraging is that this next generation of leaders who will be taking over this country soon show a relatively strong inclination to report corruption if they see it. Some 55 per cent of them so indicated, while 13.1 per cent declared that they would make a report depending on the case; and 17 per cent were generally unwilling to squeal. However, interestingly, with a true 'squaddie' mentality, 40.3 percent believed that it is acceptable not to snitch on a friend who cheats on an exam. Equally disturbing is that 33.2 per cent found it tolerable that a theft in class be unreported; and 28.1 had no issue with people remaining silent in reporting crime to the police.
Jamaican youth are ripe for anti-corruption activities, and that is where the drive against venality and illegality must be involved. Nevertheless, from the survey, too few of them know about the laws and processes to reduce corruption. Almost 60 per cent of these youth have no knowledge of our anti-corruption laws, and the 12.5 per cent awareness of anti-corruption programmes shows that much more communication needs to take place. In simple language, the youth have no idea of the effort that we are making in addressing corruption in this society. Bet no one knows that neither the USA nor the UK has an OCG. No wonder we keep feeding our people the useless trash of the CPI.
- 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 email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.