Marlon Morgan, GUEST COLUMNIST
As if the spectre of disorder and horrific incidents of violence were not enough, the scourge of corruption and perceptions regarding same is looming large in our society and remains a serious cause for concern.
Many would agree that what is even more disturbing is the fact that the anti-corruption advocates, as well as the overall movement aimed at stamping out corruption, are not being taken as seriously as they ought to. If nothing else, Jamaica's ranking of 83rd among 177 countries for the second consecutive year signals that we have not been making any meaningful headway in the fight against corruption and must endeavour to up the ante.
Jamaica is impatient of the lip service the current administration has been paying to the anti-corruption campaign and is pregnant for consensus around a set of initiatives and actions geared towards releasing the crippling grip corruption has on our social advancement and economic prosperity. Fixity of purpose and collective effort, not the least of which is effort on the part of the Government itself, is precisely what is required to secure the progressive outcomes we desire.
Transparency International and our very own anti-corruption watchdog, the Professor Trevor Munroe-led National Integrity Action (NIA), have been championing a noble and important cause. Indeed, they have been resilient and valiant in their efforts to increase public awareness, focus attention on the threats posed by corruption, and hold all of us, especially the politicians, to account. Needless to say, NIA's sterling crusade has served to spur extensive public discourse, influence public opinion, and raise the profile of the anti-corruption campaign here in Jamaica.
Sad it is that despite these commendable efforts, the campaign against corruption is yet to accrue the traction necessary to seriously turn things around. Our apparent ambivalence, tolerance, and indifference towards acts of corruption and perceptions on corruption are palpable. As a matter of fact, a case may well be made that our collective tolerance is symptomatic and borne out of a failure to make that critical link between corruption and development; or should I say underdevelopment?
Retinue of Ills
It is important to note that corruption comes with a retinue of ills, including an extremely heavy price tag. Corrupt activities facilitate inefficiency, mediocrity, fiscal distortions and revenue leakage.
What many among us fail to understand and appreciate is that efforts aimed at enhancing our anti-corruption framework, such as the establishment of the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), whistle-blower legislation and the single anti-corruption agency which is proposed, serve to safeguard against undesirables and give us value for money as taxpayers.
To the extent that we countenance acts of corruption and short-change ourselves as taxpayers, we are compromising the public purse and making fewer resources available to an already impecunious government to do all the things it is obliged to do.
Corruption presents an egregious threat to national development. When we speak of corruption, it is a development issue we are dealing with, and that reality shouldn't be lost on anyone. After all, meaningful levels of economic growth and foreign direct investments (FDIs) can only be secured if we get things right where corruption is concerned.
Many transnational corporate entities, the likes of which Jamaica would love to have at this time, take seriously narratives, anecdotes and recognised measures pertaining to corruption, such as a country's CPI ranking. They do this because they place tremendous value on their corporate social responsibility and jealously guard their corporate profile and the public goodwill they have accrued over the years.
As a result, these 'profile-conscious' entities tend to be apprehensive about investing in countries that are perceived to be fraught with corruption. They are more inclined to take their business elsewhere; those jurisdictions with generally friendlier environment for business and low to moderate levels of corruption.
Ranking 83rd in the CPI this year, as we did last year, is the clearest indication yet that the Government has only been paying lip service to the anti-corruption campaign and has failed miserably in tackling corruption in any meaningful, decisive and compelling way.
Several stakeholders, including NIA and the parliamentary Opposition, are on record as having vociferously decried the Simpson Miller administration's decision to, in effect, cut off its nose to spite its face by taking the OCG to Court. The Government, in my view, sowed seeds of destruction then, and is now reaping the bitter fruit. How could the Government, in all good conscience, have seen it fit to wage a legal battle
against one of its own agents - a commission of Parliament at that, and in the process risk giving the appearance of giving succour to corruption?
And if that were not enough, the administration has shown little regard for the office and ruling of the contractor general, with the most recent assault coming in the form of Junior Works Minister Richard Azan's reinstatement, notwithstanding the OCG's finding which suggests that his position as minister had become untenable by virtue of having acted in a "politically corrupt" manner.
Even worse yet is the Government's egregious violation of any modicum of decency and honour in the case of moral turpitude involving embattled May Pen Mayor Scean Barnswell. In the face of a damning OCG report and overwhelming public outcry and condemnation, Barnswell has not seen it fit, nor has he been made, to resign.
Recall, we are not just dealing with a case of public opinion here, we are dealing with a situation where Barnswell is before the court on a criminal charge, which certainly raises questions regarding his integrity and judgement in the execution of duties as a public official.
The reprehensible and ill-advised actions of the Government have not only served to undermine the OCG and compromise public goodwill and confidence in that institution, but have resulted in a cataclysmic erosion of the overall anti-corruption framework. There can be no denying that executive actions on the part of the Simpson Miller-led administration have occasioned a complete reversal of gains previously secured and strides that were being made.
From a legislative standpoint, we have seen a scuttling of the special prosecutor bill, with talk of a new approach under the single anti-corruption agency. In the meantime, the anti-corruption effort languishes as the whistle-blower legislation is yet to receive the resources necessary for its operationalisation.
It is no wonder then that the data are as instructive as they are. Transparency International indicates that while Jamaica ranked 61st in 2006, we fell to 84th, then 96th in 2007 and 2008, respectively - no doubt as a result of the Trafigura affair and the Cuban light bulb scandal.
And while the Manatt-Coke debacle would have fuelled cynicism among civil society, it is worthy of note that while Jamaica ranked 99th in 2009, our rankings came down significantly to 87th and 86th in 2010 and 2011, respectively - no doubt as a result of definitive executive action and such game-changing legislation, both passed and proposed, regarding whistle-blowers, the special prosecutor, anti-gang, campaign financing, and the single anti-corruption agency, to name a few.
It is about time the Government put its money where its mouth is and set aside the lip service it has been paying to the fight against corruption. It must begin to lead by example and, in so doing, take concrete steps and implement definitive action aimed at strengthening anti-corruption framework and improving the nation's CPI ranking.
It is then and only then that investors will come to us in droves, and the taxpaying public be assured of quality governance and value for hard-earned money.
Marlon Morgan is a communications consultant and aide to Opposition Leader Andrew Holness. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.