Garth Rattray | Is corruption a Jamaican way of life?
I checked out The Gleaner piece, “Jamaica still ranked low on Corruption Perception Index”, published Tuesday, January 31, 2023. It was on Jamaica’s position in Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) country rankings. Corruption was an unmentionable topic until Transparency International (the global coalition against corruption) was formed in 1993 by Peter Eigen, and nine allies, to end corruption and advocate that the powers that be [everywhere] are held accountable.
More than 250,000 people helped Transparency International report corruption worldwide through their advocacy and legal advice centres. One hundred and forty countries signed the United Nations Convention Against Corruption that they helped establish. Over 8,000 companies worldwide committed to stop corruption as a result of their corporate sustainability initiative. More than 150 world leaders listened to their call and included corruption in Sustainable Development Goal 16.
Transparency International realised that many companies tolerated corrupt practices in order to survive financially and sometimes physically. Consequently, bribes were written off as business expenses. They also discovered that many international agencies accepted that corruption would drain their financial resources for global development projects. Because it was not exposed and dealt with openly, corruption became par for the course.
A long time ago, I vividly recall a prominent Jamaican parliamentarian suggesting to his colleagues and to the nation (while speaking in Parliament), that perhaps the owners of downtown businesses would be better off making official payments to the dons because they would do a better job of protecting their stores and shops than the police. It was also bantered about that some major companies employed ‘representatives’ of underworld individuals so that they would become part of the documented workforce and earn their extortion demands legitimately. That way, they would kill two birds with one stone. They felt that they had to pay the extortion money anyway, so they incorporated that spending into their monthly business expenses.
At the turn of the century, Transparency International, in association with 11 major international banks made several significant strides against corruption. It “facilitated the creation of the Wolfsberg Anti-Money Laundering Principles that illustrates the role banks can play in anti-corruption efforts if they adopt better ‘Know Your Customer’ standards”.
Transparency International also organised the world’s first Integrity Award (now called the Global Anti-Corruption Award). It honours “the courage and determination of people and organisations fighting corruption around the world”.
Many countries have signed on to the effort to stamp out corruption. One of the ways that the organisation is working towards its goal of ending corruption and making ‘powers’ accountable is to conduct their annual Corruption Perception Index by surveying many thousands of experts, businesspeople, and everyday people. They use the information as their “Global Corruption Barometer”. They ask about bribes, and the prevalence of corruption in general. Specifically, the questionnaire seeks to find out: “Have you paid a bribe? Has corruption increased in your country? Is your government effectively tackling corruption?”
The CPI scores 180 countries and territories. A score of 100 is very clean, but a score of 0 indicates a very high level of corruption. Interestingly, it was obvious that some degree of corruption exists everywhere, so no country scored 100. However, in 2022 Denmark scored 90, but Somalia scored 12. Jamaica scored 44. In fact, two-thirds of the countries scored below 50/100, and the average score was 43/100. Although we rated just about average worldwide, we were also rated the fourth most corrupt State in the our region, the Caribbean. Transparency International defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain”. No matter how it is spun, we should be ashamed of ourselves.
Jamaica oozes corruption. The instances are far too rampant to mention in this forum. One of the most long-standing and egregious manifestations of corruption exists within the authorities entrusted with and empowered to maintain the safety and regulations regarding construction. Some people are allowed to do as they please if – (1) they are part of a political voting base; (2) they have the right connections; (3) if they know who to pay off. A blind eye is turned to these people, no matter who their breaches affect and no matter how many communities they eventually destroy. This practice can, and must end, but no government has demonstrated the will to do so.
The bravery and good name of the majority of our police personnel are eroded by what citizens commonly refer to as “extortionist police” who earn a daily fortune from road-users. This disgraceful practice can be stopped with continuous sting operations. Every administration has failed to do that, consequently, the public distrusts and disrespects the police.
Some civil service entities are extremely difficult to interface with. They frustrate citizens and therefore facilitate corruption. Finding a friend or paying off someone on the inside is how an indeterminate number of Jamaicans navigate the system. As for the awarding of ‘government contracts’, that’s a dangerous Pandora’s box that people dare to open at their own risk. Making the system more transparent, efficient and reviewed by private entities would effectively end corruption.
I am convinced that corruption has its destructive roots deeper and wider in Jamaica than Transparency International realises. It is pervasive and destructive. If Jamaica is to become peaceful, safe and grow, it needs a [bipartisan appointed] anti-corruption Tzar empowered with the teeth to root out corruption and terminate it.
Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.