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Light on Corruption | The culture of casual corruption

Published:Monday | August 21, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Annie Paul
Think of the ‘give me a bly’ syndrome. On the face of it, this is a harmless, even charming request, especially when you’re stopped for speeding. ‘Haffisa, gi me a bly nuh?’
In the case of Rupert Clarke, irate church members were abusive to the mother of his alleged victim that she was forced to consider relocating her family. In their minds, it was the mother who had committed a crime by daring to prosecute the ‘poor, innocent pastor’!
Patron-client relations and clientelism abound in Jamaica

There's a story about a prime minister notorious for his corrupt rule. When state visitors arrived, he would proudly show them around the capital city, boasting about the cut he had personally taken on all large public construction projects.

"See that Municipal Hall," he would ask the visitor, pointing at an opulent marble-clad building, "that was five per cent. See that skyscraper? Ten per cent. Did you notice the lovely highway you drove on from the airport? 25 per cent and the fancy new airport building? 50 per cent. Finally, look at that bridge over there."

The visitor looked over at the river being pointed out and scratched his head. There was no bridge in sight.

"But sir," said the visitor, "I don't see any bridge there."

"Yes, yes," replied the prime minister proudly, "that one was 100 per cent."

This was a joke my father, Samuel Paul, who wrote some fundamental texts on corruption in India, liked to tell. The situation described by the joke is a classic instance of 'grand corruption' which occurs in the context of 'policy capture', large investments and contracts and often involves collusion between consenting parties.

Retail or small-time corruption is a hallmark in the delivery of public services and often entails coercion by the party wielding power (patron) towards the supplicant or 'client'. The will to eliminate corruption is often lacking because, as my Dad put it, "Corruption has been politicised - just as politics has been corrupted."

How to turn corruption from a low-risk, high-return enterprise to a high-risk, low-return one may be the crux of the problem. But in order to get there, we need to tackle what I think of as 'casual corruption' or the mundane, everyday corruption we live with and barely notice because it is so natural to the way we function.

Until we begin to talk about the predisposition to corrupt attitudes that permeates our lives, how can we realistically tackle grand or even retail corruption?




Think of the 'give me a bly' syndrome. On the face of it, this is a harmless, even charming request, especially when you're stopped for speeding. 'Haffisa, gi me a bly nuh?'

The problem arises when this turns into a gambit, as it often does, for the 'Haffisa' in question to turn around and playfully ask what you can do for him in return for the bly. If you're a winsome browning, a little flirting will do, but more often than not, you might be expected to hand over a contribution for the local Police Youth Club Dance. That's not bribery or corruption, you say? Ok then, you begin to see the problem.

Then there's the tendency to see to it that every job is filled by someone in your personal network, whether it be via your church, high school, dojo, or lodge. The latter is particularly insidious because of its pervasiveness and secrecy. A lodge is an organisation expressly designed to promote the well-being and interests of its exclusive membership. Many important national-level decisions could be influenced by such under-the-table loyalties.

I've always been struck by the lifelong loyalty inculcated and nurtured towards the high school Jamaicans attend, particularly if the institution in question is a name-brand one. I've heard people affirm their loyalty to the school in question by saying they would give a candidate extra points for being from the same school they're from. The same goes for churches, and no doubt for Karate dojos, cooking clubs and many other associations we belong to.




I remember a friend describing in horror the moment when she discovered that almost all the secretarial and clerical staff at her office came from the same church and even the same neighbourhood, because the administrative officer simply instructed her church sistren and brethren, often neighbours, to apply for the relevant posts as soon as they opened up.

That explained why the officer in question often had the mien and bearing of an influence-broker or 'community leader'. She was!

Patron-client relations and clientelism abound in Jamaica. Oh, there are summer jobs in the department? Let's fill them with the sons and daughters of department employees. This attitude of casual nepotism is so widespread that I'm sure it's not viewed as being remotely corrupt. This probably explains why as soon as a person gains political office, they start awarding contracts to friends and relatives. A nuh nuttn!

Overweening loyalty to one's nearest and dearest underlies the predisposition to corrupt attitudes.

One of the most pernicious is the idea that because you personally know someone they could never be guilty of what they're accused of, even when the evidence is overwhelming.

This leads to the continued victimisation of victims as seen in the case of Rupert Clarke, the Moravian minister charged with having sex with a minor. Irate church members were so abusive to the mother of his alleged victim that she was forced to consider relocating her family. In their minds, it was the mother who had committed a crime by daring to prosecute the 'poor, innocent pastor'!

When attitudes such as this persist, how can we tackle corruption, grand, retail or otherwise?