Thu | Aug 22, 2019

Glenn Tucker | Any credible argument against a corruption court Mr Chuck?

Published:Sunday | July 28, 2019 | 12:26 AM

Senator Lambert Brown hates corruption with a passion. Many of us worry about him when there are senate sittings. Choking with rage and righteousness at the very hint of this scourge, we harbour fears of a myocardial infarction. His comrade leader, Dr. Peter Phillips is also having sleepless nights. Corruption is one of the reasons. So these men have combined to throw their considerable weight on top of this problem which, if they are to be believed, is a menace of recent vintage.

I have a little longer memory. I am now beginning to think there is a psychology and a physics to it for which there may never be a perspicuous or ratiocinative response.

Political corruption has been defined as the use of power by government officials or their network contacts for illegitimate private gain. This could include bribery, extortion, cronyism, parochialism, patronage, influence peddling, graft, or just plain ‘teefing’.

It’s not as if it was ushered in by the present government, as comrades Brown and Phillips would have us believe. Unfortunately, most of the discussions centre around who on which side did what, when and how much. I do not think this is particularly helpful in finding a solution. First, we must understand that this is not new and did not start in this country or with this government.

In 1621, our colonial masters – the English - had a problem. The Lord Chancellor, Francis Bacon, the highest legal officer in the land, was accused of bribery. Impeachment - trial by Parliament – was resurrected from its 150-year hiatus. He was tried, found guilty, fired, fined, and thrown into the Tower of London, never to see ‘daylight’ again. Well … not really. As it turns out, he only spent three days there as he was able to bribe the presiding judge. In an effort to salvage his reputation during the trial, he argued, earnestly, that he always accepted these ‘gifts’ from both sides.

Our worshipped masters to the north are also struggling badly. Some examples of recent vintage are:

The 2008 Financial Crisis

The Boeing 737 Max

The college admissions scam

And with 113,100 people being shot in that country each year, 38,000 fatally, they seem unable to enact basic, common sense gun laws. Why? Well the National Rifle Association is a powerful force in Washington. They make substantial ‘campaign contributions’ to politicians. This money goes disproportionately to Republicans who block every attempt to deal with this matter. So another 38,000 will die next year.

When Jamaica gained its independence in 1962, one of my teachers, Mr. Mac, told me that Jamaica’s only hindrance to major development was our ‘small size’. That year, an article appeared in the New York Times about The Cayman Islands, which Jamaica administered. The title of the article was “The Islands Time Forgot”. The prime minister of Singapore also visited. At the time Singapore was a poor and corrupt. He said he was cherry picking countries that were ‘poised for take-off’ to get ideas for his development programme.

The Cayman Islands is a major international financial centre. Tax free, 92,000 companies are registered there. This includes more than 500 banks and trust companies with banking assets exceeding US$500 billion.

Today, Singapore, which has to import water, has a highly developed free-market economy with the third highest per capita GDP in the world.

The per capita income of The Cayman Islands is US$55,000. Singapore’s is US$65,600. Jamaica, which is 42 times the size of the Cayman Islands, and 15 times the size of Singapore, has a per capita income of US$5,000. What’s happening here? What went wrong? When did it go wrong?

Singapore is the third-least corrupt country in the world. It has a zero tolerance approach to corruption. The general provisions are found in sections 5 and 6 of the Prevention of Corruptions Act (PCA) (Chapter 241), which applies to both public and private corruption. Section 7 of the PCA provides for enhanced penalties for an offence under 5 and 6, where the corruption relates to government corruption.

Corruption normalised

I remember loaded trucks rumbling through a residential area late at night only to hear that a man had got a government contract to build a school and was ‘pinching off some of the material’. In disbelief, I snooped and saw six two-bedroom flats under construction.

A credit supervisor in the US was also on the payroll of the most cash-starved, haemorrhaging government agency in Jamaica.

Politically connected drivers there were submitting overtime claims of up to 27 hours per day. A major bridge is constructed and washed away during the first substantial shower. In this last case, going by Singapore’s corruption provisions, at least seven persons would have received seven-year jail sentences. And some 15 lesser persons would have spent between two and a half and five years in jail. Were any of the present crusaders involved in any of those matters? Singapore’s zero tolerance is truly that, at all levels. In Public Prosecutor vs Lam Kim Heng (2018), Mr Heng was found guilty and sentenced to three weeks imprisonment for offering a pack of cigarettes to a housing inspector.

Corruption is an international problem. According to the UN, the global economy loses US$3.6 trillion each year.

This is why the Dutch government is so determined to bring certain Jamaican officials before the court because corruption, increasingly, has a cross border dimension.

If and when we decide to take corruption seriously in this country, we must take into consideration the political, economic and social environment of our country. Corruption is deeply embedded in our culture. The then JTA president was visiting my home in the country when it was revealed that my mother was waiting for years for her pension. He promised to act. Days later, I was told to go to a certain office. Even then, I had to take lunch for a lady, for weeks, before the matter was resolved. Did I mention that she was partial to sea food?

Civil servants in our country are grossly underpaid. If workers are struggling, they are going to explore creative ways to supplement their income. The endless bureaucratic red tape here with regressive and distorting subsidies is fertile ground for novel ideas. There is an inverse relationship between public sector wages in Jamaica and the incidence of corruption.

In examining corruption in Jamaica, I have found that the arbitrary use of discretionary power coupled with the absence of transparency is the main facilitator of major corruption. Persons are able to evaluate situations according to their own subjective knowledge and understanding and make decisions therewith. A Public Procurement Act was passed in 2015. Why is this questionable procedure still necessary?

There has to be a cost to engaging in corruption and a benefit to resisting it. We have had strong contractors general. But the view on the back patios is that Dirk Harrison, the scourge of brigandry and banditry, is being handcuffed. Why doesn’t he has powers of arrest, Mr Chuck? And what credible argument can you make against a corruption court, sir?

Corruption over the years has left us with a deterioration of the rule of law, weak institutions, an anaemic economy and crime. We know what to do. Why aren’t we doing it?

Glenn Tucker, MBA, is an educator and a sociologist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and glenntucker2011@gmail.com