Fri | Feb 28, 2020

Declare war - Civil society groups want Gov’t to put a lid on corruption through accountability

Published:Friday | December 27, 2019 | 12:48 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

Civil society and non-governmental corruption watchdog groups are less than sanguine that the Government and agencies tasked with the responsibility to significantly reduce the incidence of corruption in the public sector will find the will in 2020 to make a dramatic impact on the scourge that is draining the public purse of billions of taxpayers’ money.

“The bottom line is accountability. It is to all intents and purposes non-existent at the moment and as long as there are no consequences for the waste and mismanagement or breach of procurement guidelines for example, there will be no change but only a worsening of the situation,” said Jeanette Calder, executive director of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal (JAMP).

JAMP is an accountability tool that highlights and tracks breaches of government policy and regulations.

Calder said winning the battle against deep-seated corruption in Jamaica must require all facets of the country’s governance structure to work in tandem, and that all reports from the auditor general be scrutinised at the highest levels.

“Paying greater attention to various reports from the auditor general, not just special reports, but annual reports, where all the issues are highlighted through the whole Government, is vitally important also,” Calder said.

In the meantime, Jamaica continues to pay a heavy price for corruption, with an estimated five per cent of gross domestic product lost each year to the practice, amounting to nearly US$800 million.

Civil society advocate Carol Narcisse said that there was a culture of governance in Jamaica that seemed to operate on the notion that the public purse was someone’s private property and largesse. This culture, she said, must come to an end.

Further, she argued that there seemed to be a sense of impunity in how some people operated in Jamaica. She reasoned that if the country was to break free of corruption in the new year, justice must be seen to work in all cases.

LACK OF PUBLIC UPDATES

Narcisse charged that there was not enough will on the part of the Government to take on corruption in any meaningful way, pointing to the lack of public updates into investigations already underway, including the latest on the Petrojam scandal that erupted more than a year ago.

The Petrojam and the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) scandals are believed to have drained billions of taxpayers’ dollars.

The scandals triggered a series of investigations by the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA), and the Financial Investigations Division and other investigative divisions of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

Subsequently in October, the former Education and Information Minister Ruel Reid, his wife Sharen, their daughter Sharelle, Brown’s Town division Councillor Kim Brown Lawrence, and Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) President Fritz Pinnock were arrested on allegations of corruption, fraud and the misappropriation of public funds.

In a later court appearance, the court was told that at least $56 million is believed to have been misappropriated from the Ministry of Education and the CMU.

In the case of Petrojam, the Auditor General’s Department had reported that it had not been able to account for more than 600,000 barrels of oil worth $5.2 billion over a five-year period.

Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director of the National Integrity Action, while looking ahead to the new year, said that the jury was still out on whether the Government had the will to effectively put a lid on corruption.

“The will was there to complete some pieces of legislation that had been pending, such as the Integrity Commission Act, and there are elements in the Government and in the Opposition who are concerned and serious.” However, he said that the anti-corruption agencies need to be given increased resources to carry out their mandate more effectively.

He said that the regulations to make MOCA completely independent of the Jamaica Constabulary Force needs to be passed immediately, as part of efforts to stem corruption in 2020.

Munroe said it was reasonable to expect that Jamaica’s position on the Corruption Perception Index would “stagnate”, as the country has fluctuated in the rankings over the past couple of years.

According to the 2018 ranking, as reported by Transparency International, Jamaica is the 70th least corrupt nation out of 175 countries.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com