Ian Boyne, Contributor
Contractor General Greg Christie has been rapidly losing his sacred-cow status. Some now regard him mainly as a paper tiger. His words, once widely regarded as carrying pontifical authority, are now viewed by many with derision and annoyance - a stumbling block to progress and economic development.
Gordon Robinson and Ronnie Mason no longer have to feel alone in cutting him down to size. Omar Davies has faced down the Big Bad Wolf and has inspired courage in mere mortals to do likewise. After cowering for four years, Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) politicians have finally summoned the nerve to publicly say he could be fallible.
The contractor general's intemperate, irate and irascible release blasting the Government for daring to go to the courts to get a legal opinion on a dispute between them was a final straw to many, it seemed from my canvass of opinions. Some have charged him with boundless arrogance - and it is not just those with a vested interested in corruption and political tribalism.
But last week, the contractor general gave a speech to the St Andrew North Rotary Club which, on Thursday, earned him both a highly complimentary Observer editorial ('Of course, Mr Christie is right this time') and a lengthy excerpt reproduction on the op-ed page of The Gleaner.
But typical of our elite's short-sightedness, the Observer missed the most poignant and compelling part of his speech. The paper focused on his statements on political tribalism - the balefulness and tragedy of which is seen by everyone, even tribalists. That was not what was most profound about what Greg Christie said last week and what demonstrated the sharp, piquant thinking Christie is capable of once he manages his stridency, melodrama and hypersensitivity.
The Observer caught a part of Christie's telling wisdom in only its last paragraph when it noted that he told Rotarians: "You ... your family members, your colleagues and your business associates must act (ethically) in the lives that you lead and the way you conduct your affairs."
Greg Christie departed from the usually myopic way in which the corruption discourse is conducted in Jamaica, which is to focus purely on the institutional and legal factors, while ignoring underlying moral and cultural issues. He gave a most nuanced, sophisticated and philosophically sound analysis of Jamaica's corruption challenge.
While Christie acknowledged that systemic corruption is related to poor standards of governance, accountability and transparency in government; and that deficiencies in institutional checks and balances on power are a major factor; and while agreeing that governmental secrecy, weak rule-of-law norms and weak prosecution are major factors in Jamaica's high level of corruption, Christie did not stop there.
He went further than the National Integrity Action Ltd (NIAL), the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition and other groups concerned about corruption have gone by making some critically important links. "It is also important to recognise that the causative and influencing factors of systemic corruption are not confined to poor standards of public-sector governance alone." A crucially important point.
He gets more poignant. "The influencing factors are much broader in scope, since systemic corruption is a phenomenon that is closely associated with certain societal considerations such as low social, moral and ethical values, as well as poor integrity and governance standards in the private sector." He bears more direct quotations, and his words should be studied and discussed across the length and breadth of Jamaica as a society so obsessed with economics and politics and with an elite so philosophically and morally deficient.
ideal society for criminals?
Christie told Rotarians that "where a society places little or no importance on considerations such as values, attitudes, morality, principles or ethics in one's personal or business dealings, there will always be a ready and abundant market for the crooked public official who is bent on abusing his public office ... ".
Then he made this memorable and telling point we should be discussing for a long time if we were serious about tackling corruption in a meaningful way. "In such circumstances, the fight against systemic corruption cannot, therefore, be a fight that is confined to the strengthening of a state's anti-corruption laws or its institutions. Nor can it be confined to just improving the standards of governance in the public sector alone. The behavioural and attitudinal patterns of private-sector entities, as well as that of the individual citizen, must also be, as a matter of necessity, similarly and contemporaneously addressed."
I cannot adequately express my delight at seeing our main corruption fighter taking such a holistic, surgical, sophisticated and intellectually rigorous approach to corruption. We talk a lot about corruption in Jamaica, but in a very unbalanced and jaundiced way. Corruption is not just about what politicians and state officials do. It is what is done in the business sector, as well as in the media, as Christie saliently identified in that first-rate Rotary presentation.
The Gleaner did a service to the nation to publish extensive excerpts, but the entire speech should be published in both dailies and carried in full on JNN and PBCJ. It is the finest I have seen on corruption here and Christie is to be commended for not just focusing on his role as state contractor general, but for showing us the whole canvas and challenging us ethically.
He brought it down to this: "Getting a close friend, for example, who is a public officer to abuse his position by giving your daughter a summer holiday job at his workplace, or making false customs declaration at the airport with the intent to conceal dutiable commercial items in your possession, are not the simple matters you may think they are." I bet most of you think those are 'petty' issues. It is tolerance of such 'petty' corruption issues which fosters a culture of corruption, for which we are also famous in Jamaica.
If there is one impression I have of Greg Christie, from not just reading his strident and belligerent releases but from spending time talking with him, is that he is a man of deep, abiding and unshakeable integrity. (Incidentally, he is a remarkably warm and endearing conversationalist and raconteur.)
His integrity is not a pretence or a show. I am absolutely, absolutely convinced of that. I don't think there is a person in this country who has a greater level of personal integrity than Greg Christie, no matter how religiously devout. He lives and breathes integrity. He cannot be bought. This country should not allow his intemperance and occasional lack of emotional control to detract from the treasure we have in this rare gem.
His fearlessness to offend any Mr Big or Mr or Mrs High Status is borne of his immeasurable personal integrity and moral courage. He could speak so pointedly and perspicaciously last week about corruption and give such a measured view because he knows, from his own personal life, the importance of values and ethics in helping to protect one from the lure of corruption.
no 'small matter'
The so-called small matter of having your friend abuse his position to give your daughter a summer job, or concealing your new iPad at the airport as used, Christie labelled as "blatant criminal acts", while even some Christians should say, "A nuh nutten." We can't successfully fight our culture of corruption unless we take this zero-tolerance view and unless we have citizens who have inculcated certain ethical values. This is not religion. It is how societies develop.
Christie told Rotarians last week that "when supposedly upstanding Jamaican professionals such as doctors, lawyers and accountants illegally avoid paying their fair share of taxes, this, too, constitutes an unconscionable criminal fraud which is perpetuated upon the public purse to the detriment of one's country". But who the hell is concerned about the country? To whom do those appeals to "pay your taxes" aim? To tax dodgers?
The NIAL has been wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars urging people to "pay your taxes". If you think I am too harsh on Professor Trevor Munroe's group, let me ask you: Do you think one tax dodger has been pricked by his conscience to pay his taxes because of these ads? You think moral suasion can help them at this stage? Their values would have to change and they are not likely to change through those ads. Our hope is to reach the next generation. "As parents and mentors, we must ensure that the younger generation does not adopt the mentality of gain by dishonest or corrupt means or come to accept it as a norm or way of life," Christie said.
This is why a national values and attitudes programme is so critically important, and while our politicians of successive administrations since P.J. Patterson have mouthed platitudes about values and attitudes, not one has put the kind of serious money which needs to be injected into that campaign. Because these politicians really are not convinced that values, ethics and issues or morality are really that important to economic development. They don't have the kind of grasp of this issue of corruption that Greg Christie has. I think a service which Christie, who is addicted to circulating data, could do his country is to send a copy of his speech to every single member of parliament - hoping some would read beyond the first three paragraphs.
That brilliant intellectual, Carl Stone, who made an indelible contribution to journalism, saw the issue of corruption clearly from 1992 when he wrote his last paper, Values, Norms and Personality Development in Jamaica: "The dominance of money as the single most important currency of influence, power and status, and the decline of respectability as a status-defining factor, have promoted increased and rampant corruption both in government and in the private-sector corporate world." Twenty years later, Greg Christie has come with the same and holistic approach to the issue.
And Professor Don Robotham, in his Grace Kennedy Foundation lecture of 1998, said insightfully, "The fundamental issue is, how do we strengthen the moral bonds of the Jamaican society?" Our politicians, media and the elite generally have ignored the ethical and cultural roots of corruption with characteristic shallowness. Thank you, Greg Christie.
Ian Boyne, a veteran journalist, is the 2010-11 winner of the Morris Cargill Award for Opinion Journalism. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.