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Fighting corruption in politics

DIANE ABBOTT

Sunday, September 29, 2013    

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PROFESSOR Trevor Munroe was in Britain last week for the 110th anniversary of the Rhodes Scholarship. As most Jamaicans know, the professor was a Rhodes Scholar at New College Oxford in 1966.

In my capacity as chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the British Caribbean, I was privileged to organise an event in the British Parliament, where he met with a group of Jamaicans. The purpose of the meeting was to allow Professor Munroe to meet informally with a group of compatriots, to discuss what is happening in Jamaica.

In particular he wanted to talk about the work of the NGO he set up, National Integrity Action (NIA). The purpose of NIA is to fight corruption in public life in Jamaica. A very lively discussion followed about corruption and Jamaica.

Having spent most of his adult life at the heart of Jamaican political life, Professor Munroe was able to cast a lot of light on the issue.

Of course, corruption in public life is not a problem for Jamaica alone. Where you have politicians and money, you inevitably have corruption. British and American politicians talk a lot about standards in public life and cleaning up campaign finance.

But funding political campaigns in a media age is incredibly expensive. And the political consultants, that are deemed necessary, don't come cheap. So campaign funding scandals periodically erupt in British and American politics.

In his first campaign in 2008, Barack Obama spoke a lot about cleaning up politics and cutting back the power of political lobbyists. But it has not proved to be so easy. The world of lobbyists, big money and politics has become so intertwined in the United States that it is not easily unravelled.

In British politics there are quite strict rules about campaign finance. But in recent times both major British political parties have sought to get around campaign finance regulations by accepting money from big business as loans which, technically, they do not have to declare.

Professor Munroe wants to take the first steps towards cleaning up politics in Jamaica by making it illegal to accept overseas money and insisting on more transparency. He pointed out in last week's meeting that corruption, bureaucracy and crime are the main things that stop people coming to invest in Jamaica.

It would seem that Jamaica's economic future depends on dealing with the corruption problem. The British and American experience shows that legislation alone does not ensure integrity. When politicians are desperate for money they always find a way around the rules. But this legislation would be a start.

Professor Munroe's British audience was very interested in his ideas. Political corruption is not unknown in Britain. But it is unusual for it to take the crude and blatant forms that it can take in other parts of the world. But the interest of the Jamaican diaspora in playing its part in improving standards in Jamaican public life is real.

For far too long, the Jamaican body politic has focused on the potential financial contribution of the diaspora. This emphasis on the diaspora as potential investors has sometimes seemed to be to the exclusion of all else. But the diaspora has so much to offer. And this includes partnering with local NGOs like NIA.

 — Diane Abbott is a British Labour party MP and spokeswoman on public health

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