Sun | Aug 18, 2019

Getting tough on corruption

Published:Monday | July 22, 2019 | 12:09 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

A former Brazilian president is currently in jail, convicted for the second time on charges related to a vast corruption scheme spanning decades.

Israel’s PM is also facing allegations of corruption. His wife (and first lady) was recently found guilty of fraud and breach of public trust, having used state funds for lavish gourmet meals, despite being provided with a state-paid chef. She was fined for that crime and had to repay funds to the state.

A former Peruvian president was also arrested recently in the US on charges related to bribery. In Jamaica, we seem to take a different approach. Some prefer not to talk about it, turning a blind eye as if it doesn’t exist. It is difficult to understand why these types of white-collar crimes are so hard to crack in Jamaica.

Attorney Kent Gammon, in an insightful article in The Gleaner back in 2017, ‘Light on Corruption - the enemy of Jamaica’s growth’ pointed out that: “Despite the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), legislated in 1985 to be a check and balance on corruption, of the 40 cases referred by the OCG to the DPP over the last nine years for prosecution, the DPP has not prosecuted one single case.”

I think only one high-profile public official was ever charged and convicted of corruption and fraud, that is former JLP Minister of Labour and Social Services J.A.G. Smith, who was convicted for embezzling funds for personal use, from the Farm Work Programme. When funds are diverted for personal gain, the money trail shouldn’t be difficult to trace, especially with the technology now available.

The DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions], in its ruling on the corruption probe at the Ministry of Education, CMU and related agencies, stated that there is a “possibility” that laws were broken, which really means that charges might or might not be laid.

‘Possibility’ might be a legal term bordering on caution based on the well-known adage, ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

However, we do know how these high-profile cases usually end. The key players are usually well connected and lawyers often find technical interpretation in the law to prove ‘not guilty’, regardless of the evidence.

Perhaps we do need a special Corruption Court to expediently deal with fraud and corruption cases, which could also be a deterrent to those prone to these types of crime. Like the mafia, culprits are usually well organised, slick, defiant and defensive to the end.

It is paramount that we strengthen the approach in the fight against corruption from all angles. The billions lost over time to corruption could be better spent on services benefiting the public.

Our system of prosecution must show guts by being more vigilant. Why does the DPP have to make rulings public ahead of arrests? When probes are drawn out, this provides ample time for evidence to be destroyed and individuals to collaborate. Key witnesses may also retreat into hiding. We cannot continue to ignore the fact that corruption is an impediment to economic growth.

P. Chin

chin_p@yahoo.com