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Corruption stain lingers despite Jamaica inching forward

Published:Friday | January 29, 2021 | 12:28 AMRomario Scott/Gleaner Writer
Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director of National Integrity Action.
Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director of National Integrity Action.

Jamaica has improved in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) but is still among the most corrupt countries in the world as an estimated $95 billion is lost annually to the scourge.

The island moved up a single point from 43 to 44 out of 100, where zero is deemed very corrupt and 100 is very clean in the 2020 edition of the assessment.

This marginal improvement moves Jamaica to 69th out of 180 countries, up five places from 74th in the 2019 CPI ranking.

But in the Caribbean, Jamaica remains at fifth, with only Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti worse.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, The Global Insight Country Risk Ratings, The World Economic Forum, The World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, The PRS International Country Risk Guide, The Varieties of Democracy Project, and The Bertelsmann Foundation Transformation Index provided scores for Jamaica on the basis of which the composite was calculated.

Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith said the country was moving in the right direction.

“Jamaica’s CPI ranking for 2020 has improved. Clearly, we still have work to do, but it is important to know that we are moving in the right direction,” Johnson Smith stated in response on social-media platform Twitter.

However, Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director of anti-corruption lobby National Integrity Action, argued that despite the marginal improvement, Jamaica’s position left a lot to be desired.

“Truthfully, we have moved marginally up and marginally down over the years but have remained in the absolutely unsatisfactory situation of being among the most corrupt, especially at a time when we need to make sure that every dollar counts,” Munroe stated during a media conference on Thursday.

Munroe argued that complacency may have led to Jamaica remaining in the worse half of the index despite a five-point jump from 39 to 44 in 2017, which was the best performance in 10 years at that time.

“We continued to tread water beneath the surface of integrity. Hence, CPI 2018 saw us stagnant at score 44; CPI 2019 showed slippage to 43; and now CPI 2020 has Jamaica’s score marginally improved to 44, with 68 countries performing better than us, including comparable CARICOM states such as Barbados, Bahamas, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Dominica, Grenada, which all score above 50,” Munroe lamented.

Among the reasons NIA believes Jamaica has made little movement on the CPI is the diminution of the role of the Opposition in providing oversight of the executive through chairmanship of some key parliamentary committees.

The inordinate delay in passing legislation to strengthen Jamaica’s anti-corruption framework has also contributed to the ranking, Munroe theorises. For example, at the end of 2020, the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency was still not an independent agency despite commitments made and explanations offered. Important amendments to strengthen the Integrity Commission – arising from recommendations made in its annual reports of June 2019 and July 2020 - are yet to be considered by the Parliament.

“Jamaica can, and urgently needs to, pull itself above the pass mark of 50, below which we have been stuck for the last 10 years,” Munroe said.

“In order for this to be done, power at all levels – from top to bottom, but beginning at the top – must be held to account for the common good.”