Martin Henry | Corruption dominant in LAPOP survey
The most recent survey of 'The Political Culture of Democracy in Jamaica and in the Americas', a survey which is regularly conducted by the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) of Vanderbilt University with local support, is, of course, about a lot more than the rising support for military rule to deal with crime and corruption.
The day after the official launch of the report, The Gleaner led with 'Military rule - Jamaicans would put army in charge to curtail crime and corruption, says survey'. The two-part question which the survey asked was, "Some people say that under some circumstances it would be justified for the military of this country to take power by a coup d'etat (military coup). In your opinion, would a military coup be justified under the following circumstances: a) When there is a lot of crime b) When there is a lot of corruption?" The options for answering were: 1) A military takeover of the state would be justified 2) A military takeover of the state would not be justified.
Jamaica leads the 22 countries that were polled on this question across the hemisphere. Jamaica leads on the crime part, with 59.3 per cent saying yes to a military coup to deal with high levels of crime, and came in second for dealing with corruption, with 53.2 per cent support for military intervention, averaging 56.4 per cent. That number has been steadily rising from the 39.7 per cent support for a military takeover in 2006 when Jamaica, through the UWI, first joined the survey.
Surveys don't usually probe deeply enough into why respondents say what they say. In our case, Jamaicans are desperate for a crime solution in the face of a horrendous and unrelenting murder rate. We trust the army more than the politicians. And nothing was asked about accepting the temporary suspension of rights in favour of army rule, as The Gleaner report inferred.
Indeed, there may be an expectation that army rule would enhance the protection of rights, certainly the rights to life and security of property, which the civilian Government seem unable to defend. Three-quarters of us, according to the LAPOP survey, believe that human rights are insufficiently protected now.
Distinguished criminologist, Prof Anthony Harriott, in commenting on this newsmaking finding said: "The data revealed the failures of law enforcement and the positive performance of the army in dealing with the extraordinary crime situation that persisted since 2010 and which resulted in a 30 per cent decline in all serious crime immediately after their intervention."
In terms of strong support for democracy across the population, when another question was asked about support for an executive coup when the country is facing very difficult times, that is, shutting down the legislature by the executive branch and governing without Parliament, only 18.4 per cent of respondents gave support.
Democracy is best
Although declining, 55.8 per cent of Jamaicans still agree with the statement that "democracy may have problems, but it is better than any other form of government". But voter turnout has been steadily declining and only 31.8 per cent of Jamaicans say they trust elections. With very little to choose between our two centrist political parties, perhaps Jamaicans are progressively rejecting the LAPOP notion of equating democracy with voting. At 47.72 per cent, the last general election in 2016 had the lowest percentage voter turnout in Jamaica's history since Independence and places Jamaica squarely at the bottom of the LAPOP ranking. Trust in political parties is very low across the hemisphere, not exceeding 35 per cent, with Jamaica at 22.5 per cent but still managing to rank in the top third of countries surveyed.
The AmericasBarometer gauged support for democracy, assessed perceptions on basic liberties, checked opinions on corruption, police-community relations, and on the very topical issues of lottery scamming, human trafficking, marijuana decriminalisation, and ended with an assessment of the state of democracy.
I chaired the launch on March 27, but remain consistently critical of lumping the very different Anglophone Caribbean and Latin America here and on other matters and critical of cross-cultural surveys which might not be sufficiently culturally or historically sensitive. Jamaica, for instance, has stronger and longer democratic traditions and press freedom than most Latin American countries where coups have routinely occurred and a very different experience, historically and culturally, with the national army.
In conducting surveys, there is always the danger of researchers asking one thing and respondents answering to another thing. The danger is compounded in cross-cultural surveys. On the matter of press freedom, for instance, The Gleaner could report from the LAPOP report that "Press freedom is limited - study reveals that less than 50 per cent of Jamaicans believe media have a free voice, while trust is declining."
Little press freedom
In response to the question, "Do you believe that nowadays in the country we have very little, enough, or too much freedom of the press?" 47 per cent of Jamaicans surveyed responded that there is very little press freedom in the country!
Assessments by media bodies like Reporters Without Borders, using objective measures of press freedom, have consistently ranked Jamaica at the top end of the press freedom league. We're number eight out of 180 countries on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
The American director for LAPOP at Vanderbilt University, Professor Elizabeth Zechmeister, offering a cross-cultural explanation of the level of perception of little press freedom in Jamaica by nearly half of the survey respondents, reasoned that "this is not necessarily about the legal environment. It's about the individual perceptions of the extent to which the media are able to operate freely".
I offer a culturally grounded counter-explanation as both a media practitioner and a media scholar: The likkle man really complaining dat 'im don't have free access to media like di big man dem an' nubaddy nuh really a lisen to him so the press nuh free.
As The Gleaner reported in its story, veteran newspaper columnist and radio talk show host Ronald Thwaites said that he was surprised by the findings. "I have been involved in media for more than 40 years and there has been great press freedom. There is no impediment like in other countries. The press is easily accessed, so I am surprised that at this time we are saying that press freedom is limited," Thwaites said. "By and large, there is no structural impediment to accessing the media in Jamaica. I really doubt the validity of this research."
Riddled with corruption
When it comes to corruption, the prevailing popular view picked up by the LAPOP survey is that the country is riddled with corruption and politicians are mostly corrupt. But only 10 per cent of the population is reporting any direct personal victimisation by corruption! Interestingly, there has been a progressive overall decline in justification of acts of corruption as being sometimes acceptable.
In a generally low-trust society, there is substantial trust in state anti-corruption agencies, with only one falling below 50 per cent but none exceeding the 58.5 per cent for INDECOM. But strangely, there are higher levels of reported satisfaction in the performance of state anti-corruption agencies, with MOCA topping the list at 71.3 per cent.
Attitudes towards non-governmental anti-corruption actors had a very satisfied rating of 82.4 per cent for National Integrity Action among those who had heard of the NIA (47.2 per cent), the only agency listed.
There is still overwhelming support for the rule of law despite a growing trend that the authorities can occasionally cross the line and break laws to capture criminals. This strong reported support for the rule of law does not square with the prevalence of vigilante justice, the reliance on gangs for protection and the celebration of the security forces taking out bad men by whatever means.
In this land of contradictory contrasts, trust in the police is well below 50 per cent but there is a relatively strong view that the police protect people from crime (58.3 per cent), come to the neighbourhood to help (64.8 per cent), and that there is a shared interest between police and citizens (73.6 per cent), with 65 per cent of respondents very willing or willing to work with the police in crime-control initiatives.
Despite the negatives about police-citizens relationship thrown around, new Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang has something to work with here. The LAPOP survey is supposed to influence public policy, plans, and programmes.
Jamaicans overwhelmingly believe lottery scamming is a serious crime issue and have much concern about human trafficking, which is widely viewed as a serious problem. How widespread the trafficking problem is in hard numbers is another matter. Like for lottery scamming, the majority of respondents say human trafficking is not a problem in their own community.
The cultural entrenchment and acceptability of ganja is underscored by the survey data. Less than 50 per cent of respondents believe that marijuana use is unhealthy (48 per cent), leads to the use of hard drugs (43 per cent), and that legalisation will produce more crime (41 per cent). But 55 per cent agree that people should be allowed to freely smoke the herb. Half the population reports being users and nearly 80 per cent reports having friends or family who are users.
"Democracy is on the defensive in the Americas and around the world," according to the 2016-2017 LAPOP survey report. "Democracy in the Latin American and Caribbean region is facing a critical set of challenges, from low public trust in elections, parties, and political leadership to deficiencies in the supply of basic liberties, the rule of law, citizen security and robust service provision ... The public's continued support for democratic governance depends crucially on whether the region's political systems can deliver on their promises."
A sobering note on which to end both the report and this column.
- Martin Henry is a university administrator.