EDITORIAL - Supporting the call for a corruption court
In the context of the high incidence of corruption in Jamaica, the call by Assistant Commissioner of Police Justin Felice and endorsed by representatives of civic organisations at one of this newspaper's Editors' Forums last Friday for a specialist corruption court makes sense and should be supported.
As with other criminal matters trapped in the logjam of the court system, when corruption cases go unattended or unresolved for extended periods, people lose confidence in their ability to obtain justice through established channels and often resort to creative alternatives. The establishment of a special court that can have related matters adjudicated with relative speed should be among the steps taken to put an end to this practice.
The facts are clear - Jamaica's experience matches those of other countries where studies have confirmed that corruption hampers economic growth and, in the long run, leads to a waste of public resources. Corruption is often manifested in illegal practices associated with the procurement of material and payment of labour for public-sector projects, in the granting of waivers for imports and in the attempts to circumvent bureaucracy either for speedier transactions or simply to beat the system to gain an edge on the competition.
Strengthen existing systems
But, ultimately, the fight against corruption has to be multifaceted. Governments have to commit to the strengthening of institutions and agencies, including the Office of the Contractor General and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to allow for the necessary investigations and recommendations for action when corruption is reported or suspected. The police must also be given the tools to do their follow-up investigations.
At the same time, public servants who are committed to carrying out their functions with integrity must have the support of a judicial system that works with a fair amount of efficiency. Dedicated public officers should not be frustrated by a chronically slow court system that allows the objects of their investigations to continue enjoying the fruit of illegally obtained gains.
A specialist corruption court that can address these areas of concern should help to deter those who want to travel that road. But such a court will necessarily need to have the financial resources and personnel if it is to achieve anything.
Recalibrate, reallocate resources
We are not unmindful of the financial constraints under which the country operates at present. The greater challenge, however, is that by not addressing this matter with the sense of urgency that it deserves, it will, in the long run, end up costing the country more. It is imperative that we recalibrate and reallocate resources as needed.
The fight against corruption is not the public sector's alone, however. Private businesses understand only too well that their productivity is undermined when their officers have to resort to paying 'extra' to get things done. This then breeds and encourages corruption of a different kind.
In setting up a corruption court, examples from other jurisdictions such as Indonesia's, as to the empanelling of judges and the frequency of its sittings, could be useful guides in tailoring one to suit the Jamaican experience.