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Corruption: who's serious about wiping it out?

Published:Sunday | June 29, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Ronald Mason, Columnist

Corruption is a constant feature of life in Jamaica. It is, therefore, a significant turn of events that it is now more likely to have discussion of the topic. As such, two recent events have resulted in some directed focus.

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) has a recent statement in which it defends and contradicts itself at the same time. The current holder of the office, Paula Llewellyn, is displaying admirable perseverance and diligence in fulfilling the remit of the office. The fact that she is head of an office that is understaffed is regrettable and one does assume she makes frequent representation to the powers that be to increase her staff complement. This staff shortage and the clear delineation of jurisdiction among the various courts - from Resident Magistrate's to Court of Appeal - would also have facilitated the use of non-intervention in the RM and Crown Counsel prosecution and the use of fiats, where sought.

She correctly notes, however, that there is the matter of the mandate under Section 94 of the Constitution of Jamaica which should not be downplayed. The ODPP has the sole, onerous responsibility for prosecution in Jamaica. If she disputes this, then Madam, I crave your edification.

Yes, the ODPP is not an investigative agency, but again she does have at her disposal some investigative capacity arising from the relationship with the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Some notable officers who are also attorneys have spent time in the ODPP. Recall Gladys Brown, Keith Gardner and others. Clearly, the investigative service, limited though it may be, is available to the ODPP.

The courts of this land are overburdened, creaking under the weight of the caseload and badly in need of corrective intervention. The fact that matters in the RM courts are the remit of the clerk of the courts is acknowledged, but that does not exclude the intervention of the ODPP. The ODPP does, in fact, state, "The ODPP conducts prosecution in the RM courts in high PUBLIC INTEREST and OR VERY COMPLEX MATTERS (my emphasis). We, therefore, appear in less than five per cent of corruption cases." The acknowledgement that the ODPP does appear in accord with the mandate of the Constitution of Jamaica must be enough for us mere mortals to raise questions.

SIMPLISTIC AND SHORTSIGHTED

Would the prosecution of some high-profile person for corruption not have great public interest? Would such a prosecution not generate public education value, regardless of the outcome? Would such a prosecution seem to say there is one law for the rich and connected and another for the poor average person? This leads to questioning the use of the phrase "simplistic and shortsighted" by the ODPP. I dare to speak for the 'commentators', as I have a strong tendency to opine on these matters to implore the ODPP to challenge, even castigate, me where warranted. But come good; do not seek cover from 'protocol' in the ignoring of Section 94 of the Constitution of Jamaica.

Corruption is too pervasive in the country. Some big, politically connected figures need to be charged, prosecuted vigorously and, where convicted, made to wear 'short pants'.

The public education campaign for the reduction of corruption and the highlighting of the practices that could facilitate corruption is being led by National Integrity Action (NIA). The message at all levels and through various media is to be commended. Something I have become more aware of in recent times, however, is that the message of the NIA is being diluted by whoever is seen as the messenger. For a generation, the messenger comes with what society sees as unanswered questions from an earlier time.

The earlier time saw the messenger being an activist for a political group or party that was not viewed as mainstream in Jamaica. There was a transition, even to the extent of seeking membership in the Parliament of Jamaica through the ballot. He is probably very qualified by knowledge and inclination to be a member of that body. But he has this past that in many people's minds has not been sufficiently explained or satisfactorily atoned.

The matter before the nation needs to be championed. It needs to have zealous advocacy, but one must question the choice of messenger in the absence of full disclosure. It may even be necessary for the biblical baptism by immersion and rebirth.

The Simpson Miller administration is to be implored to act with some deliberate mores to reduce corruption. One cannot have public servants telling the citizens who seek service at the ministries that the matter will take some time to be completed as the minister is a busy man, but one would try to seek an early audience. This is to obtain a signature only. The inference is clear but, of course, entirely deniable.

Why in this the 21st century, the minister has to sign, must be a pertinent question? Are the technocrats not competent to assess and make decisions, especially where other technocrats have already reviewed and approved? We are in serious, serious trouble. God help us all.

Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney, mediator, and talk-show host. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and nationsagenda@gmail.com.