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Changing attitudes to corruption

Published:Wednesday | April 14, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Dr Lloyd Waller is a lecturer.
Hartford mayor Eddie A. Perez enters Hartford Superior Court with his wife Maria, left, and attorney Hope C. Seeley on Monday, April 12, in Hartford, Connecticut Jury selection began for Perez's trial on bribery and attempted extortion charges. - AP

Dr Lloyd Waller, Contributor

Several recent events have highlighted and drawn attention to the Government of the day's anti-corruption commitment, one of their campaign promises. Corruption, more specifically, political corruption, is the misuse of entrusted power by a politician, a party, institution or public servant for private benefit - to enrich, or, in various ways, advance their interests or the interests of others.

What we know from historical and global experiences is that corruption has the potential to undermine the proper functioning of political and legal institutions, challenge the integrity of the state and threaten the very fabric of democratic and good governance because it undermines citizens' trust in government. This can occur in instances where the widely recognised norms, legal arrangements and standards which govern economic transactions are violated. It also occurs in instances where the functioning of a nation and the ability of institutions in society to attain stated objectives are hijacked. Among these, the administrative system, political institutions and the judiciary are of key concern. In such a space, merit-based mobility, innovation and creativity are stifled. In essence, then, the fusion both undermines the culture and shrinks the domains of democracy.

Beyond these threats to good governance, but linked to them, are also socioeconomic consequences. Corruption can distort private and public investment. Corruption can lessen the value of assistance which flows from international organisations, government or non-government agencies to communities through the diversion of funds to unintended projects. It can bring about a loss of tax revenue in instances where there is tax evasion which affects the level of public expenditure.

It has the potential to affect expenditure in a government agency or ministry, as some politicians can choose to spend more on projects that facilitate bribes. It subverts the merit principle and rewards those who do not play by the rules (thereby reducing competition), weakens the authority of the rules and laws and the methods and processes that lie at the heart of the democratic process. It undermines foreign direct investments and economic growth.

Jamaicans feel society is corrupt

Consequently, the livelihoods of the poor are particularly at risk. Resources required to address their needs are siphoned off to meet the needs of an individual, a political party or another group. This essentially means corruption may, in some instances, help to perpetuate the status quo (keep the rich, rich and the poor, poor) by providing those who seek to protect their own interests with the power to do so.

For many in the international community, Jamaica is a highly corrupt country. This is evidenced by the score of 3.1 out of 10 and ranking 99 out of 180 the country received on Transparency International's 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index(CPI) - an index which measures corruption. High scores on the index means there is less perceived corruption and lower scores means there is higher perceived corruption. More specifically countries that score 10 are characterised as 'highly clean' and 0 as 'highly corrupt'. This means a country such as New Zealand (where I once lived), which has a score of 9.4 and ranked 1, is viewed as the least corrupt of the 180 countries on the 2009 CPI, and a country such as Somalia (which I would love to visit one day), which has a score of 1.1 and ranked 180, is viewed at the most corrupt.

The index is based on the level of perceived corruption by public officials and politicians of a country. The 2009 CPI is based on 13 different polls and surveys from 10 independent institutions. And, although the CPI itself has been heavily criticised because it is based on (1) proxies of corruption, and (2) a mix of third-party survey data, to name a few, for many international businesses, international organisations, tourists, and investors, the CPI is viewed by many global and influential institutions as the world's most trustworthy measure of public-sector corruption and domestic corruption. It is a very influential determinant of how external bodies view, and interact with countries.

The last survey on corruption undertaken by a local institution - the Centre for Leadership and Governance (CLG) in the Department of Government, University of the West Indies (Mona) in 2008 - corroborates the CPI's findings that there is a perception among Jamaicans themselves that politicians, political parties and public servants participate in corrupt activities to enrich themselves, advance their own interests or the interests of others.

For instance, in the 2008 survey conducted by the CLG, the respondents were asked: "Do you believe that some politicians help criminals to access government contracts?" Based on the data analysed, it was found that 52 per cent strongly agreed with this statement and 36 per cent somewhat agreed. while six per cent somewhat disagreed; three per cent strongly disagreed and the remaining three per cent either did not answer the question or claimed not to know the answer. This is represented in the accompanying chart.

More specifically, the persons interviewed for the CLG survey were also asked: "Do you believe that some politicians are involved in criminal activities such as drug trafficking?" Some 57 per cent strongly agreed with this statement and 28 per cent somewhat agreed. whereas 10 per cent somewhat disagreed two per cent strongly disagreed, and the remaining three per cent either did not answer the question or claimed not to know the answer.

An almost similar response was found when the respondents were further asked: "Do you believe that some politicians are involved in criminal activities such as gun trafficking?" Of these, 52 per cent strongly agreed with the statement, 29 per cent somewhat agreed, 10 per cent somewhat disagreed three per cent strongly disagreed, and six per cent either did not answer the question or claimed not to know the answer. Both findings are depicted in the chart below

Gordon-Webley fights corruption at Solid Waste

These findings may not seem to be a surprise for many of us in Jamaica, as it empirically validates what can be referred to as a popular belief among many Jamaicans.

In the last two years, several government agencies have implemented a number of initiatives to minimise corruption. I have been conducting a series of interviews with several individuals who work at various levels in these organisations. In this article, I will focus on one of these agencies — the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA).

According to its executive director, Joan Gordon-Webley, several anti-corruption strategies have been implemented at this organisation which have been very successful. Some include:

  • Regulating and monitoring of cheque disbursements
  • Monitoring and supervision of worksheets, employees' workload, job descriptions and contract disbursements
  • Monitoring and supervision of organisational resources to ensure that there is no misuse of entrusted power
  • The revamping of sweeping contracts and reorganisation of roving teams across the regional bodies
  • Making employees accountable for their actions

Mrs Gordon Webley says that for her "constant monitoring to ensure compliance, engaging in an open-door policy and the utilisation of a hands-on approach has contributed to the success of these anti-corruption strategies".

According to her, she has managed to change employees" as well as the public's attitude toward the Authority. For her, "there was paradigm shift that no longer tolerated corruption as a way of life; but rather there was greater involvement and support in the fight against corruption with a willingness to report it, and preparedness to identify themselves in the reports once they did so". She believes, however, that much more needs to be done as it relates to enforcing the rules. But she notes that hard work is paying as the NSWMA is now an organisation where there is much less corruption.

Interviews with new 'first-time' and 'long-time' employees of the NSWMA as well as affiliated bodies 'contractors' all seem to suggest there is indeed a paradigm shift in that specific government agency. For instance, employees are more aware of the consequences of corruption and there is an emerging culture of responsibility, accountability and transparency.

Perception plays an important role in shaping our beliefs and even our actions. There are many views and experiences about corruption in Jamaica. However, there are also stories of decent honourable, hard-working Jamaicans trying to mitigate corruption, trying to change the perception of agencies and institutions, and trying to change the mindset of individuals about the consequences of corruption. It is hoped this article, and subsequent ones in this series, helps in educating people about corruption and the need for social responsibility and, more so, contributes to changing the perception that we are all corrupt.

Dr Lloyd Waller is a lecturer in the department of government on the Mona campus of the UWI. Send feedback to