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EDITORIAL - Corruption is the enemy, Mr Christie

Published:Saturday | March 24, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The vigilance of Contractor General Greg Christie is reassuring to all well-thinking Jamaicans who crave transparency and accountability in public affairs and who want to see an end to malfeasance in the public sector.

In theory, both the Government and the Opposition agree that it was necessary to create an Office of the Contractor General to combat corruption and make government processes more transparent. And judging from the sounds emanating from the justice minister, there is consideration to forming a single anti-corruption agency.

However, for us to effectively fight this vice, there is a requirement to shift from talk to action. For example, it makes no sense clothing the contractor general with legislative powers of investigation yet frustrating his efforts by not offering him full cooperation, and denying him information to help him determine how our tax dollars are being spent.

For the job of a contractor general to be successful, the political administration needs to set the right tone and build an empowering environment. A way must be found to empower corporate Jamaica, civil society and other interest groups in joining the fight and helping to rid the country of the relaxed attitude to corruption. We must stop giving corruption our blessings.

It is of grave concern that the politicians have seemingly found a way to increase fears of corruption by opaque programmes such as Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme, under the Jamaica Labour Party administration, and now the Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme under the current People's National Party government.

Wading through murky waters

Mr Christie must be commended for seeking to wade through the murky waters of bribery and self-enrichment that often result from these contractual arrangements. It is a fact that corruption, whether through connivance or incompetence, adds significantly to the cost of doing business and hurts the most vulnerable in society.

In all of this, we take note of Mr Christie's approach to his work which has invariably led to public squabbles with various bureaucrats. Noted among these are quarrels with the director of public prosecutions and the former commissioner of customs. The latest row involves the permanent secretary in the works ministry.

It is no exaggeration to imagine that over the years there must have been a fair amount of resentment for Mr Christie's style among public servants.

If corruption is the enemy, all our anti-corruption efforts are best focused on measures to curb and eliminate corruption. Collaboration, instead of confrontation, may yield better results. It is a sad acknowledgement that for all the work done by Mr Christie and his predecessors, Jamaica's reputation has not benefited much, and we can see no positive change in the nature and scope of the corruption problem. The global anti-corruption watchdog ranked Jamaica 86th of 183 countries in 2011.

Take operations at the Island Traffic Authority where, through collusion with criminals, it is possible to license a stolen motor vehicle or get a car passed without submitting the vehicle to a physical test. Many people had hoped that Mr Christie's vigilance would have at least resulted in dent in such rackets.

It is not unkind to say that Mr Christie's office is yet to make the kind of meaningful impact required to shift the culture from one that is often sympathetic to corrupt individuals. How many people today are satisfied that there is executive accountability, or legislative accountability, or even judicial accountability?

The reality is that the picture of corruption in Jamaica remains gloomy. The constant bickering among public officials will not help.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.