Tue | Aug 22, 2017

Corruption czar coming? ... It's unlikely that growth targets will be met if dishonesty is not confronted - Vaz

Published:Tuesday | September 13, 2016 | 9:00 AMJovan Johnson
Daryl Vaz, minister without portfolio in Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation.

The Government could give consideration to appointing a corruption prosecutor, or czar, as part of efforts to achieve its 'five in four' and pedal Jamaica to sustainable growth and development, Daryl Vaz, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, has said.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who heads the portfolio, has set his administration a target of achieving five per cent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in four years.

The target was set based on alignments in the economy under the programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and comes after more than 40 years of average GDP growth of one per cent.

 

'Timing is right'

 

A string of structural adjustments programmes accompanied the IMF deal, but Vaz is arguing that while reforms are critical, if nothing is done to directly address corruption, it is unlikely that the growth targets will be met.

"I haven't heard it before, but obviously, the timing is right in terms of what's happening," Vaz responded when asked by The Gleaner about the possibility of a corruption czar.

"I'm sure, based on the utterances from the private sector and other NGOs, that that discussion is something that's going to get much more attention in the coming weeks as it relates to how we move forward in dealing with (corruption)," he added, pointing to the People's National Party campaign donations scandal, which has refocused questions on corruption in the public sector.

Michael Lee-Chin has been named the 'growth czar' because of his chairmanship of the Economic Growth Council, the voluntary body that Holness has entrusted to come up with projects and systems to achieve the growth target.

 

Trillions lost to corruption

 

According to the World Bank, about US$1 trillion is paid each year in bribes around the world, and the total economic loss from corruption is estimated to be many times that number.

Noting that corruption is "a strong disincentive to foreign investment", the bank said recent research suggests "that there is a 300 per cent dividend for improving governance from weak to strong".

Vaz, who has responsibility in the superministry for investment, said a balance has to be struck between "overhauling" the country's governance system to root out corruption while also facilitating the investment projects.

"While we (governments) are and have been trying to change the system, that is going to be a work in progress. That is something that is not necessarily going to happen not in my term in office or maybe in my lifetime. So, in the meantime, you have to have a parallel running, where you can make sure the critical planks for growth are being dealt with or personally handled by a particular minister or agents of government."

He added: "I am a politician, I'm not a magician, but I'm trying to work magic in my term in office, however long that may be, to make sure that at least we can see a change in the right direction, although it may not be by the overhauling of governance, and, therefore, I am focused on that. Investment gives me the reach that I need."

He stressed that public-sector reform is critical to simplifying the bureaucracy and reducing opportunities for the creation of illegitimate systems to compete with legal ones.

 

Anti-corruption priority

 

Legislation such as the Integrity Bill to strengthen Jamaica's anti-corruption systems fell off the table earlier this year, but Holness has committed to making them a priority.

Vaz said some of those bills, which have been criticised as weak, are under review, and the parliamentary process will be shortly outlined.

In its manifesto for the February general election, which it won, the Jamaica Labour Party affirmed its support for a single anti-corruption agency that would "absorb" the Corruption Prevention Commission, the Integrity Commission of Parliament, and the Office of the Contractor General.

Transparency International 2015 data show, with a score of 41 out of 100, that Jamaica is barely inching itself out of the "highly corrupt" band.

Kenya, Romania, and China are some countries where public servants are given broad powers as corruption prosecutors.

Local anti-corruption lobby National Integrity Action has in the past supported the establishment of a special prosecutor's office, while former Contractor General Greg Christie, up to recently, has said that Jamaica needs to be more serious about its anti-corruption efforts.

jovan.johnson@gleanerjm.com