How corruption affects human development
Did you know that corruption in our society can affect your health, wealth, and development? The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being (and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity).
International agencies state that corruption exists where persons abuse the power that is entrusted to them in order to benefit personally. We customarily think that such benefits are of a financial nature, but the benefits may be of any kind — material, sexual and other favours, opportunities, and services.
Once a person has the ability to influence an outcome, and they do so in an unfair manner to bring about some benefit to themselves or their family, friends, or associates, then corruption has occurred.
Our ranking as very corrupt
According to a 2008 USAID research study, along with crime and violence, corruption is seen as the most serious challenge facing Jamaica. On the Corruption Perception Index 2013 by Transparency International based in Germany, our country is rated along with countries like Liberia, Mongolia, and El Salvador as very corrupt, scoring only 38 out of a possible 100.
And as we look around our society we can see why. We see it in the way our politics is practised, in many of our law enforcement encounters, the choices made in the way we proceed against alleged criminals in high places, the way many vital documents disappear from our courts, in many of the interactions that occur in public places, in persons seeking to claim a co-payment benefit using another person's health insurance card, and in some of the other decisions that persons make in their daily lives.
We see corruption in the way we treat with women who are sexually harassed and exploited by persons with power who seek to extort 'favours' from them, how persons of a lower socio-economic standing (the poor and the vulnerable) are denied access, privileges, and opportunities, and when fairness and justice are not being served at the various levels of society.
All of these hurt our mental and social well-being. Corruption hurts everyone who must depend on the integrity of persons who are placed in positions of authority.
Corruption and distrust
On a national scale, corruption means that resources that should go to community and national development are diverted, and so poverty and inequality are not addressed. We often see its effects via our television sets, as corruption leads to conflicts and instability in our communities across Jamaica.
Pervasive corruption has led to widespread distrust of elected officials and existing authority, a lack of confidentiality and confidence in places like police stations, and fear of reprisals. Prolonged delays in prosecution, the inconsistent application of penalties to perpetrators, and the belief that upper income persons use their positions of class to extract benefits not afforded to persons of a lower socio-economic class only add to the perception of corruption.
Measures to combat corruption
To slow the rate of our further descent on the indices of corruption, we must immediately institute several measures, including civic and legislative. We must embark on public education campaigns that outline specific examples of what corruption is and what to do about it. We must expand on the wordings in some of our current legislation, including the Corruption Prevention Act, to capture the notions of corruption that include the exploitation of women, political advantage, economic privileges, and social benefits.
We should create a specific body which should be given the legal authority to address and pursue all matters of corruption in our society. Also, we should all talk more about this issue and target, in particular, our various communities across our island, to raise awareness about the rights and responsibilities of citizens and how they may access channels in seeking redress against the various forms of corruption.
Corruption — the major barrier to our development
The abuse of power, a lack of transparency, secret dealings and bribery continue to ravage our society, and these examples illustrate why corruption is a major barrier to our social, economic, and human development.
Only by moving simultaneously on all the measures to combat corruption will we have a chance to stem this widespread cancer across our land. Hopefully, when we all have a clear understanding of what corruption entails, how it permeates every sector and layer of society, and we begin to take the requisite decisive actions against it, we will be able stop those who are corrupt and who are currently getting away with it, restore some personal pride in our beloved country, and improve our well-being and our development.
Derrick Aarons MD, PhD is a consultant bioethicist/family physician, a specialist in ethical issues in medicine, the life sciences and research, and is a member of the Executive Council of RedBioetica UNESCO.