'Breaking the corruption chain' - Watchdog group urges more work to defeat monster
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Public commentator, attorney-at-law Dr Paul Ashley, has cautioned against the liberal use of the corruption label on every dysfunctionality or shortcoming in the country.
However, Martin Henry of the anti-corruption entity, National Integrity Action (NIA), is arguing that a broad-brush approach is necessary to tackle this massive problem as "Jamaica corrupt from top to bottom".
Addressing a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Wednesday to mark 2014 International Anti-corruption Day, Ashley argued that it could be incorrect to label all wasteful government spending and some defects in the judicial system as corruption,
"It seems to me that the NIA has such an omnibus focus that would tend to give every defect in the society the label corruption," argued Ashley.
"It could be incompetence, or it could be lack of awareness or a systemic problem but we run the danger of labelling every defect or shortcoming corruption," added Ashley.
But Henry countered that corruption is not only what the authorities do but also what people want to be done.
Henry was supported by executive director of NIA, Professor Trevor Munroe, who argued that like the rest of the world Jamaica needs to commit to this year's theme for International Anti-Corruption Day: 'Breaking the Corruption Chain'.
Munroe pointed to the Corruption Performance Index 2014, released a week ago, which he said confirmed the view of most Jamaicans that corruption is rampant among public officials.
The index listed Jamaica among a number of countries needing to do much better in dealing with corruption. Jamaica earned a score of 38 and a rank of 85 of the 175 countries listed.
Munroe noted that Jamaica scores highly in areas such as freedom of the press, where the country is ranked 18 out of 197 countries and ahead of the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Jamaica also scores highly in terms of independence of the judiciary, where it is ranked in the top third of 144 countries; auditing standards, where the country is also in the top third and, "most recently, significant improvement in government budget balance as a per cent of GDP where the country moved from 96 to 21 in one year", noted Munroe.
Low levels of government transparency
However, Munroe pointed to the low levels of transparency in government policymaking, 109 out of 144 countries; the high level of favouritism in decisions of government officials, 94 out of 144 countries; the slow passage of anti-corruption legislation; and the need for more effective law enforcement against corruption as among the reasons for Jamaica's low ranking in the index.
Munroe also cited a poll commissioned by the NIA and carried out by pollster Don Anderson that suggested that a "very high percentage of the Jamaican people believe that big business is involved in corruption".
He pointed to a plethora of complaints of perceived corruption received by his office. Citing an example, Munroe referred to a complaint from a St Elizabeth resident that a road in his district was rehabilitated, but washed away by a first shower.
The resident charged that the rehabilitative work was again done by the same contractor for more money with the same consequences.
"He (the resident) is very clear in his mind that this is at best wastefulness of government expenditure, and at worst, corruption," argued Munroe.
The NIA executive director argued that Government needs to speed up its anti-corruption legislation; the private sector needs to do more to build integrity among its members; the media have to utilise its freedom to focus on issues of transparency and accountability, while civil society needs to consolidate its activities against corruption.