EDITORIAL: GET ON WITH IT! Corruption: an urgent battle
If the Government has the guts to stay the course of its admittedly tough fiscal reforms, Jamaica will have gone a substantial distance in dragging itself out of the economic mess in which it has wallowed for nearly half a century. But that won't take us all the way.
Among the other things with which the Government must simultaneously get on is a furious battle against corruption.
For while bad policies and poor management were driving Jamaica deeper into poverty, the country, in perception and reality, grew increasingly corrupt. For instance, in Transparency International's 2013 barometer on global corruption, 95 per cent of Jamaicans viewed corruption as a problem, of which over two-thirds characterised it as serious. More than 60 per cent of our adults felt that the situation has worsened over the previous two years.
A further measure of the depth of the cynicism of the average Jamaican is that 85 per cent felt that our political parties/politicians were corrupt and held the same view of the police. Three-quarters of us had little or no faith in the integrity of the legislature.
All of this translated to a perception among approximately 80 per cent of the country that the Jamaican State, to varying degrees, was being run primarily - 17 per cent claimed entirely - to the benefit of a few large interests. Unsurprisingly, 56 per cent of the population felt that the Government's anti-corruption initiatives were ineffective.
economic price of Corruption
Corruption, it is widely acknowledged, extracts an economic price, the full value of which we are yet to quantify. But in the European Union (EU), where the problem is not presumed to be as bad as ours, a report last month estimated the annual cost of corruption to member states was at US$160 billion, or the value of the commission's annual budget.
As Cecilia Malmström, the EU's commissioner for home affairs, remarked: "Corruption undermines citizens' confidence in democratic institutions and the rule of law. It hurts the economy and deprives states of much-needed tax revenue."
It also hurts in other ways, too, and in more countries like Jamaica seeking to attract foreign investment to help drive economic growth. It limbers their global competitiveness.
doing business here problematic
In the World Economic Forum's 2013-2014 global competitive index, Jamaica ranked 94th of 148 countries. Apart from hard stuff such as the macroeconomic environment, infrastructure, and education that impact a country's competitive position, corruption (12 per cent) was among the top-three factors people cited for making doing business here problematic. A key cohort was the Government's inefficient bureaucracy.
Actually fighting corruption, as against talking about fighting it, has to be a priority for the Government. Earlier this month, the Government finally tabled a bill to establish a single anti-corruption agency with prosecutorial powers independent of the director of public prosecutions (DPP), although the latter office retains, constitutionally, the right to withdraw prosecutions - an authority that, except in the most extreme of circumstances, a DPP would be most brazen to exercise.
Parliament must get on with the passage of the law. But this is only the first step if the Government is serious. It must then appoint strong, independent-minded commissioners to oversee the agency. These commissioners have to be provided a budget with which to properly run the agency, including engaging top-quality staff.
Get on with it.
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