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Light on Corruption | Reduce corruption and watch Jamaica grow

Published:Monday | July 24, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Martin Henry
Keith Duncan, co-chairman of EPOC, speaking with residents of Longville Park, Clarendon, during The Gleaner’s ‘On the Corner with EPOC’ at the Unity Sports Bar last Wednesday.
Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck piloted the Integrity Commission Bill through the House of Representatives in January.

Clarendon was among the hardest-hit parishes in double whammy flood rains just a few weeks apart in May and June.

As rehabilitation work in the parish got under way, People's National Party (PNP) councillors in the municipal corporation were joined by the president of their party and leader of the parliamentary Opposition Dr Peter Phillips in crying foul over alleged allocation of resources along party lines to the disadvantage of those supporting the party in the parish. These charges are not new. They are as old as party politics in the country.

And to the extent that the complaints, switching from one side in power to the other, are true, they represent the abuse of power and of state resources for advantage. This is corruption.


Dishonesty hurts economies


Longville Park residents in the same parish of Clarendon have identified corruption, in their view, as the greatest impediment to economic growth in Jamaica. They were speaking in the On the Corner discussion series sponsored by this newspaper with EPOC, the Economic Programme Oversight Committee. With murders running more than 60 in Clarendon since the start of the year and Longville Park itself facing increasing incidents of crime, it would not have been surprising had the citizens identified crime as the number-one impediment to economic growth.

Corruption hurts economies. It drives away investment, both foreign and local. It drives up the cost of business as a hidden cost. It diverts public resources into private pockets and away from public goods. It feeds into crime, and organised crime feeds back into more corruption.

And corruption hurts the poor more. They have to divert proportionally more of their few resources to secure benefits than those better able to pay, whether on top of the table or under the table, or they have to do without.

We have to do more to reduce the cost of corruption to the Jamaican economy and the lives of Jamaican people in order for the country and all of its people to flourish better.

This is not to say that advances have not been made in the fight against corruption, despite the strong public perception of the extent, and even the growth, of corruption. The electoral system has been cleaned up by the EAC/ECJ to the point where no politician can now get elected by fraud and violence, by blatantly corrupt means. The public contracts and procurement system have been significantly strengthened and is now much cleaner.


New law only as good as enforcement


One of the institutions with one of the worst public perceptions of corruption, the police force, has terminated scores of officers on corruption charges; has improved its own internal anti-corruption mechanisms; and operates anti-corruption units, or formations as they call them, to pursue and prosecute corruption.

A legislative architecture to deal with corruption is being built out, although not as fast and as effectively as we would like.

The Bill for The Integrity Commission Act (2014, then 2016, now 2017) has now passed through the Senate in its slow crawl through the Legislature. The House of Representatives passed the bill on January 31, but it will now return there from the Upper House with 103 amendments. The Commission will see a merger of three older anti-corruption agencies: The Integrity Commission, the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, and the Office of the Contractor General. The Integrity Commission Act will not be a perfect law. There is none. But we mustn't let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

This law, like any other, will only be as good as its enforcement and the resource support it receives.

That Longville Park-EPOC meeting offers several insights into steps that have been successfully taken around the world to reduce corruption in countries, some of them starting further back than Jamaica. Citizens' awareness and engagement is critical, and this has been growing in Jamaica.

Media engagement is necessary, as is that of civil society organisations. This newspaper is running this anti-corruption series. Investigative journalism on corruption issues is critical.

Simplifying processes for dealing with the Government is absolutely necessary. Whenever dealing with the Government is complicated, frustrating, and stressful, citizens quite rationally seek shortcuts to reduce the hassle and are prepared to pay a parallel fee under the table. The people at Longville Park said so.


Corruption loves the dark


To reduce corruption, we must reduce discretionary authority. Keep the rules clear and simple, and they must be applied by the book to every case.

We must ensure that no single officer, whether political or public service, is in charge of multiple steps in the system. Each step should, preferably, be handled by a separate service provider in a clear "chain of custody".

Transparency must be built into transactions. Corruption loves the dark. Mechanisms for monitoring and review must be devised and operated, and the age of information technology makes this easy.

Endemic corruption in an agency must mean active collusion or dereliction of duty at the top, leading to at least being fired and up to prison time.


Major public education required


Reducing corruption further is going to require a major public education, public awareness, and public understanding effort as the basis for necessary public outrage.

A handful of big-fish prosecutions will have a far greater salutary effect than 100 sprat cases further cluttering up the log-jammed judiciary.

There must be strong political commitment and leadership from the front. Politicians from both sides collaborated on the EAC when the tribal war was threatening to destroy our democracy. Holness and Phillips and their teams should collaborate on fighting corruption now. Resources for effective action will have to be provided by the State.

The legislative framework for pursuing corruption should be systemically overhauled and strengthened. The Integrity Commission will have responsibility to study and to recommend legislative review.

And Dr Phillips, the PNP councillors in Clarendon, and all politicians in Jamaica, will discover that there will be much less reason to cry victimisation and corruption when politicians are completely removed from the distribution of scarce benefits and public agencies, operating under clear, transparent rules with monitored accountability, are empowered to do so.