Guest editorial

Attempts to assuage their concerns about kickbacks and graft notwithstanding, Jamaicans mustn’t be lulled into accepting that corruption isn’t a major problem, or that it’s only a matter of a few bad apples.

For, it isn’t because they have been duped, or brainwashed, that upwards of 70 per cent of Jamaicans consistently hold that they live in a corrupt country, or that in a recent opinion survey, 60 per cent of the respondents believe the same of the administration. Perceptions, usually, are formed out of people’s lived experiences.

What Jamaicans understand is that corruption extracts significant cost from the economy, as well as places a burden on taxpayers. When a procurement contract is structured to increase the price of a good or service without a concomitant delivery in value, taxpayers not only pay more, but the additional expenditure is mostly lost to the economy. An infrastructure that is paid for, but only partially delivered, isn’t available to drive output. The project has to be paid for again, with resources that might have been applied to other areas of development.

This is something Prime Minister Andrew Holness appreciates. Indeed, during the 2017 debate of the law to establish the Integrity Commission, Mr Holness said that while Jamaica had made gains in the more than half-century since its Independence, it might have done better, but for the drag of corruption.

Corruption, of course, isn’t only a domestic matter. It, or how countries are perceived to respond to the matter, is increasingly part of the matrix of global relations. It helps to inform bilateral partnerships between states, relations with multilateral institutions, as well as the conduct in international trade. Unsurprisingly, sophisticated methodologies have been developed to test the bases for the perception of corruption, and to rate countries against each other on how well they do in fighting the problem. This makes sense. For the corruption is estimated to cost the global economy upwards of two per cent annually, consuming resources that might have gone towards attending people’s real needs.

It is in this context that Jamaicans are concerned over the country’s slippage, by four places, to 74 of 180 countries, in the rankings, on Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index. More important than that decline in the rankings was to the one-point drop in Jamaica’s score, to 43 from a possible 100, which tells how well a country is doing in fighting corruption. A score below 50 suggests that the country has a corruption problem.

That campaigners highlight such empirical data, day in, day out, oughtn’t to be seen as a bad thing that demoralises the Government, public-sector bureaucrats, or politicians’ aisle. It is the right thing to do.

When politicians, having voluntarily auditioned, accept national leadership, assume great influences over people’s lives, and have control over national resources, they should expect deeper scrutiny, and be open to greater accountability than ordinary citizens.

Fighters against corruption must be absolutely intolerant of any purveyor of alternative facts, who would attempt to erect benign facades that encourage citizens to be less robust in their questioning of leaders. Neither must citizens accept any reasoning, whether the engineer is foreign or domestic, in an environment in which leaders can claim for themselves an elasticity of the law, or argue that ethical conduct doesn’t count.

Prime Minister Holness, clearly, is of that mind. Despite the too many hiccups of the past, we take the PM at his word of having committed to having Jamaica’s anti-corruption institutions work well. That is why we urge an early replacement on the Integrity Commission for the recently resigned Derrick McKoy, as well as the establishment of a parliamentary committee to review the identified flaws in the legislation.

The commission also has to now quickly fill vacant positions in the organisation, or appoint permanent staff to posts where there are now acting officers. In other words, the commission has to fulsomely embrace its mandate and aggressively get on with the job of fighting corruption.

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