Tue | Dec 12, 2017

Light on Corruption | Corruption and double standards

Published:Thursday | August 31, 2017 | 12:14 AM

I don't know anyone in Jamaica or anywhere else in the world who is not against corruption. I have never seen in the press nor heard in the media any defence of the concept or practice of corruption; and if there is anyone who has, then please refer me to it. It seems to be written on the heart of every man and woman that the use of public power by a politician or public servant for the personal and private gain of that politician or public servant is wrong and should be severely punished.

So much so that at the beginning of their term, every newly elected government deems it important to denounce corruption, to promise zero tolerance, and to swear that they will be relentless in stamping it out.

But then very little happens after that.

Despite the consensus that corruption is evil, it never seems to diminish. There seems to be no sector spared the tarnish of corruption, either as corrupter or corruptee: politics, the civil service, the judiciary, the police, the military, the private sector, the Church, education, athletics, agriculture.

People are against corruption in the abstract, but when offered a bribe to bend the rules, or to speed up a transaction, there are relatively few who would refuse it. And there are so many upright church people who when they need rules to be bent, or a transaction to be completed quickly, are prepared to pay a bribe. And then this double standard gets extended to their political party: when my party is in power I expect to share in the scarce benefits and spoils, but when the other party is in power and does the same thing to its supporters I will rail against political corruption and call for heads to roll.

Neither of Jamaica's two major political parties seem to have any shame about being accused of corruption. If they did they would avoid any action that would even appear corrupt, for fear that their integrity would be discredited.

In a Judicial Review case before Lord Chief Justice Gordon Hewart, he made a statement which has become an important legal maxim: "It is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done". The same thing should be true of corruption: it is not merely of some importance, but is of fundamental importance that corruption should not only be avoided, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be avoided.

Jamaican politicians, civil servants, policemen, and so many others, manifestly and undoubtedly flout this principle.

The case before Lord Chief Justice Hewart involved the appearance of a conflict of interest; no actual conflict of interest was alleged. Yet the case was thrown out because it could have looked like a conflict of interest, and therefore might have appeared to be judicial corruption. We are not so sensitive here in Jamaica.

It certainly looked like corruption!

When the People's National Party's (PNP) mayor of Lucea was accused of nepotism by the contractor general, the first response of the director of public prosecutions (DPP) was that Jamaica has no crime on the books called nepotism. It certainly looked like corruption, when it was exposed, that close relatives of the mayor received contracts worth several million dollars from the parish council of which the mayor is the chair. Where was the outrage from PNP supporters at this appearance of corruption?

Does it appear any less corrupt when a Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) government without following established procurement guidelines issued contracts worth many millions of dollars to their supporters to do bushing just before the last local government elections?

Where is the outrage from JLP supporters at this appearance of corruption?

Does the fact of the Trafigura donation to the PNP cause any shame among PNP supporters? Does the fact of the efforts of the JLP government to prevent the extradition of Dudus cause any shame among JLP supporters? It would appear not, for the silence especially from the private sector has been deafening; and contributions to both political parties continue to roll in.

If the appearance of corruption is to be avoided, then all donations to political parties in cash or in kind must be declared and published. The fact that both politicians and private sector wish these donations to remain secret exposes their unwillingness to avoid the appearance of graft, influence peddling and conflicts of interest, three of the most common types of corruption practised in Jamaica.

About this there must be no compromise, which is why I continue to be disappointed by the actions of National Integrity Action and Trevor Munroe, who compromised with the political parties by agreeing to secret political donations above a certain threshold, which creates large loopholes for wholesale corruption to continue. They must be so embarrassed that even after compromising, not even these watered-down measures have been implemented.

- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and development scientist.