Light on Corruption | Is fighting corruption a civic responsibility?
The typical discussion about corruption in Jamaica tends to focus on corrupt government officials who perpetuate a corrupt system of governance. The solutions tend to focus on anti-corruption legislation, strong law enforcement, smart technologies and building related institutions to fight corruption.
Typically, we tend to ignore the fact that many Jamaicans who are not in government perpetuate a culture of corruption through their own practices or inaction. Further, we typically do not see ordinary Jamaicans as having any responsibility to fight corruption. Most of us see this as the work of the law-enforcement agencies, the contractor general, the National Integrity Action (NIA), among others.
I suggest that if citizens see fighting corruption as a civic responsibility with moral obligations, and act accordingly, the anti-corruption strategies will be more effective and sustainable.
The United Nations Convention Against Corruption, Transparency International, among other organisations tackling corruption, have recognised that a comprehensive, holistic approach to solving corruption must include a role for ordinary citizens. The role includes promoting honesty, integrity and related values; participating in policymaking; monitoring government to ensure compliance with their commitments to fighting corruption; advocating for better legislation and policy, and more. However, these are awesome responsibilities for ordinary citizen to undertake.
NON-CORRUPT BEHAVIOUR IS A MORAL OBLIGATION
Why should citizens burden themselves with these tasks when government agencies and other institutions are undertaking them, and in fact, are paid to do so? The answer is that non-corrupt behaviour is a moral obligation for the rule of law to flourish in a free society. Some of this moral obligation is enshrined in law, which we have a civic duty to obey. This means we all have a duty not to carry out acts of corruption, or act as an intermediary or through a third person or as an agent of a corrupt person, as required by Section 14 of the Corruption (Prevention) Act (2000).
Also, the law requires us to actively participate in curbing corruption. Under Section 10, if you are summoned, you must "attend and give evidence, or to produce any paper, book, record or document before the Commission [for the Prevention of Corruption]." Tort law even imposes on us a "duty to care" for others. So, the law requires us not only to avoid corrupt behaviors but also to actively participate in the process of fighting corruption if summoned to do so, and to actively care for others.
However, not all necessary civic obligations are enshrined in law or can be treated as a matter of law enforcement. For example, there is no legal obligation to vote in elections. Nonetheless, we typically see voting as a civic responsibility or a social action required for good governance. So too are the required personal responsibilities of integrity, respectful, honest, truthful behaviour, and more, embodied in the 'core values' required to achieve our Vision 2030.
These responsibilities are the collective moral responsibilities we all have as owners of Jamaica. I, therefore, see engaging in or tolerating corruption as a moral failure, an abandonment of our civic responsibility and a breach of our civic duty.
EDUCATION IS KEY
So how can every Jamaican create a corruption-free society?
Education is key. Public, adult education in civic and family responsibilities is necessary to reengineer the institutional fabric of our society. This is doable. I have witnessed attitudinal/behavioural shifts by Jamaicans exposed to civic responsibility training organised through the USAID-funded Fi Wi Jamaica project.
This experience suggests that we must invest public resources in the moral development of the household as the foundation of social organisation. The moral, non-corrupt behaviour of family members required for Jamaica's success must become lifelong learning. Adults must view moral, non-corrupt family practices and habits as an obligation or personal responsibility necessary to safeguard the well-being of Jamaica.
These moral practices or habits must be reinforced, and not left solely to primary, secondary and tertiary schooling. The burden of moral or civic education is too heavy for our teachers alone. Reintroducing civics in school is a good step and should be strengthened by continuous reinforcement through public education of the moral, non-corrupt behaviors required for Jamaica's success.
Underlying these education initiatives must be bottom-up economic development initiatives that addresses Jamaica's growing inequality and provide meaningful alternatives to corruption as the basis for making a decent living. This should also involve increasing the level of entrepreneurship education or training and other income-generating assets that the household can acquire as the basis for sharing in such development.
I see these initiatives as the essence of our collective civic responsibility to fight corruption. It starts with our personal morality. In the past, we have left moral training to the Church, but today, in the face of persistent moral failings of the Church, this approach needs a second look by all of us.