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Editorial | Too tame on corruption

Published:Tuesday | January 31, 2017 | 12:00 AM

He may argue that there was too little time for his Government to do much before Transparency International began work on its latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Nonetheless, Andrew Holness can hardly be happy that he will mark his first year in office with a worldwide presumption that Jamaica has grown more corrupt on his watch.

We are troubled about how little concern the prime minister and his Government have publicly displayed for the country's sharp downward slide on the index.

Yet the CPI matters. First, entrenched and endemic corruption is not the disease. Usually, it is the symptom of a dysfunctional state, whose institutions are stressed, encrusted and creaky, leadership lacking, public resources wasted and/or siphoned to private use, and individuals tend to graft their way around the barriers of regulatory institutions. The upshot is that corruption impairs growth and development and exacerbates income inequality.

Further, TI is the primary watchdog of global corruption. And as Greg Christie, the former contractor general, noted in his article in this newspaper on Sunday, its index is widely consulted by people who decide on foreign direct investment. So, it matters when, as happened in 2016, Jamaica, having advanced 16 places the year before, slipped 14 positions, to 83, on the CPI. Even if you adjust for the increase of seven countries on the index, Jamaica's slippage is significant.

More worrying is the decline in Jamaica's score, measured on a scale of zero to 100. In 2016, it fell two points, to 39. TI says in its report: "Anything below 50 indicates that governments are failing to tackle corruption."

It also says: "The lowest-ranked countries in our index are plagued by untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions, like the police and the judiciary. Even where anti-corruption laws are on the books, in practice, they are often skirted or ignored. People frequently face situations of bribery and extortion and rely on basic services that have been undermined by the misappropriation of funds, and confront official indifference when seeking redress from authorities that are on the take."

Many Jamaicans will claim to have been personally victimised by such situations.




However, when Mr Holness' party won the Government a year ago, with a tight majority, he implied much would change. "We have not won a prize," he said. "Instead, the people have given us a test. There is absolutely no agency of power. This means the winner cannot take all, or believe that we can do it alone."

Mr Holness' administration has hewn a credible line on the macroeconomy. Up to the time of Transparency's index, domestic confidence continued to strengthen and growth was on the rise.

We, however, have not discerned an equivalent urgency and zeal by the Government in confronting the nitty-gritty of corruption, the solution of which is critical to a sustainable fix of other problems in the society, including crime. Corruption, with its wastage of resources and diminution of respect for institutions, undermines what social anthropologist Herbert Gayle, in his series in this newspaper, calls "effective central political authority".

Said Dr Gayle: "People cannot start and maintain a war in a country where there are firm frames of security and social control. Jamaica has neither."

That's a message Mr Holness must internalise.