Corruption again: everybody touched

Published: Sunday | December 8, 2013 Comments 0

Orville Taylor

If Shanique Myrie were Barbadian and it were at the Norman Manley International Airport that she was violated with an embarrassing body cavity search, would she have been awarded J$3 million? What would have happened if a set of Indian-descended Trinidadians had been denied access to Jamaica, because it is felt that they were coming here to illegally open up a roti shop?

The question is asked because once more we are faced with the embarrassing report from Transparency International, the Germany-based global watchdog organisation.

Holding fast to 83rd place in the 177-country ranking last year, Jamaica has a 38 score out of a possible 100 on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI); it is on par with the twin-island republic to our far south. Well, at least there is one area in which we seem to be able to compete, given the massive trade imbalance.

Other CARICOM neighbours are doing better than us as well. St Lucia has an impressive score of 71 and is way up in the top 25, placed at 22. St Vincent comes in at 33, batting at 62; Dominica, the third largest island in the West Indies, is at a decent 58 and places 41st.

In all fairness, we are not the worst, because Guyana's CPI is 27and Haiti's is 17; and those are countries where Jamaicans and other CARICOM nationals are packed up like corned beef in their immigration section, begging to enter Port-au-Prince and Georgetown.

However, Barbados is a special case, and has top ranking in the truest sense of the word. Its CPI is 75, and only 15 countries in the whole wide world rank above it. With the exception of Canada, which comes in at ninth and a CPI of 81, the little island, packed with a tenth of Jamaica's population, is seen as a place where corruption is as absent, as if it were being pursued for an interview.

Barbados is an enigma, with one of the highest rates of literacy in the region and more persons with doctoral degrees than most other Caribbean nations. Amusingly, with the exception of the ubiquitous 'r...', which is used in almost all of CARICOM, its illegal curse words are as simple as "God blind you" or its derivative, "Gowblee!" Really! If you even say "Jesus!" outside of a religious utterance, it is unlawfully taking the Lord's name in vain. That's why they say, "Cheese-on" when we would say, "Jeezam!"

Jamaica has a lot of work to do, and, thankfully, we have a paradoxical situation in which we have the freest press in the Americas. Therefore, weekly, it is possible to speak truth or give honest opinions based on fact, whether or not it is comfortable to the powerful or the vindictive.

NOT A PRETTY PICTURE

But the picture is not pretty; anything that starts with a 'P' is seen as having deep corruption. More than 80 per cent of Jamaicans believe that the police are crooked, and around the same percentage feel the same about political parties. Parliament has 75 per cent of Jamaicans believing that its members are dishonest. More than 60 per cent of Jamaicans feel that over the past two years, we have become more venal.

Nevertheless, there is a gap between belief and measurement or proof. Despite the police being seen as overwhelmingly corrupt by 86 per cent of Jamaicans sampled, only 12 per cent of those actually said that they or a family member dropped any dollars on Officer Dibble. Twelve per cent is not as small a number as we think; this means that one out of every eight Jamaicans has tainted the constabulary, and since they are payers of bribes, they are criminals, too.

Data from the police show that over the past few years, a significant number of police and civilians have been arrested and charged for breaches of the corruption statutes. True, the numbers of arrested policemen and women cluster among the junior ranks, but the spread is from the superintendent ranks down to the district constable.

Then I revisit the judiciary, which ranges from the chief justice and members of the Bench, whom we call Justice, down to the acting magistrate who sits on a stool. The same number of Jamaicans feel that judges are corrupt, as they feel about public servants on the whole. At 47 per cent, that is reproachable and cannot be simply based on the public ignorance. True, people tend to exaggerate the negative things which affect them, but six per cent of my countrymen and women say they gave 'Yur Anna' something to make Lady Justice peep from one side of her blindfold and cause the case to fall out of the scale.

CAUGHT AND CONVICTED

Of course, some time ago one judge was caught and convicted. Nonetheless, the last time I discussed TI's findings, an eminent lawyer was incredulous, but given his respect for scientific methodology, he didn't dismiss the report as being contrived. Rather, he accepted that it does not matter what the level of corruption was or whether it was a cent which was paid; given the margin of error, anything above three degrees must be acknowledged.

Thirty per cent of Jamaicans feel that media are corrupt. And if I am to take the cue of some of my disgruntled colleagues and some of the surprises in the National Journalism Awards last weekend, there might be some basis for this.

Indeed, some elements of the press are absolutely not free, because payola is real and perceived. It would have been instructive if the survey asked whether or not any of the respondents passed money to play trash on the radio or carry a news story or feature. The results might be shocking. Surely, not every news item is newsworthy and many recordings hardly worthy of being called music are by talent-free individuals.

Interestingly, while 46 per cent of the persons surveyed believed the government services to be tainted, only three per cent of them ever paid any bribe to tax officials. Well, given the stridency in taking action against a close relative of a prominent member of the Jamaica Labour Party in 2011 and the current issue with a major People's National Party player, it looks like government money and politics are not friends. Kudos to the taxman.

MORE TRANSPARENCY

Yet, in all this, Jamaica's National Integrity Action (NIA) has been pushing for more transparency in government, and with much justification. Along with human rights groups like Jamaicans for Justice and others, there is the call for more openness. As you read, NIA has been running a series of advertisements regarding disclosure of campaign financing. "Who pays the piper calls the tune," it declares, while making its position clear that foreign corporations should not finance local political parties. In the academy, we have to declare sources of funding when publishing our research.

Nonetheless, does the public know how much these non-governmental organisations (NGO) get from international sources per year? The survey says that only 11 per cent of Jamaicans believe NGOs to be corrupt. With 89 per cent of Jamaicans seeming to trust them more than the 53 per cent who trust the judiciary, could it be that they also have hidden strings?

Still, there is encouragement. Forty-six per cent of us strongly believe that ordinary people can make a difference in eliminating corruption, while 38 per cent simply believe. Thus, 84 per cent of us, the same number that think the parties and the police are dishonest, believe that we can make a difference.

Let it start with you and me.

Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.



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