MANY years ago, I was given a ticket by the police for speeding. It was in the middle of December of that year, and I was late for a class I was then teaching at Kingston College. It was the last class before the Christmas break, and I wanted to complete some material we had been covering, and set an assignment for the vacation.
As I approached the dual carriageway on Mountain View Avenue, I started to accelerate, only to be caught on the police radar.
I was given a ticket under the old system and a date to appear in Traffic Court. It was the days when one could have the ticket quashed by speaking to one who was higher up the command chain. I decided then that I would not use my office to seek any relief and would go to Court instead, as I was guilty.
Arriving at Court, we were received in batches of about six to eight persons. It was quite an intimidating experience. When my batch was called, the presiding judge addressed each in turn, listening to our stories. In those days, the fines were not particularly harsh and the judge was fairly lenient as he went through one by one.
The woman who immediately preceded me had quite a convoluted explanation as to why she was speeding on the day she got the ticket. She went into a long story about how her baby got sick and when she contacted her paediatrician, he told her if she could come to his office now he could treat the sick child.
The judge teased out her story a while, and then, unconvinced about the validity of the story she was telling, imposed on her the highest fine of those I had heard so far. By that time I was very anxious as to what he would do to me.
He looked at me and then he began a brief discourse. "You are a man of God. You baptise and bury persons. Why would you want to drive at such speeds at this time of the year?... (pregnant pause). But I suppose you have an explanation with which you would not want to burden this Court." He then imposed a minimal fine on me and dismissed me from before the bench.
With a sigh of relief, but also with a sense of embarrassment at his implied rebuke for my misdemeanour, I left the courtroom and paid my fine.
I have reflected on that experience over the years and see in it many possible explanations. One which I proffer comes out of the contrasting experience between the mother who preceded me and the rebuke and fine which I received. I believe that the judge wanted each of us to accept responsibility for breaking the law.
Leniency was exercised where there was acknowledgement of guilt and culpability. In my case, there was perhaps a gratuitous forewarning that any attempt to rationalise what I had done would not go over well with him and in that public arena, given the office which I occupied. Somehow this experience returned to my consciousness in recent days.
Over the last two weeks, the nation has been caught up in a rather confusing process of engagement following the report from the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) regarding the conduct of two ministers of Government and their use of the authority vested in them. The two reports were not unexpected and, indeed, in one case was long overdue.
In the most striking of the reports, the OCG had recommended that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) consider bringing criminal charges against junior works minister Richard Azan and others in relation to the Spalding Market affair.
And while the reports point to areas of culpability on the part of these officials, and even call for possible legal sanction in one case, there is being spawned such confusion surrounding the issues, that one is left to wonder if the nation is ready to address issues related to allegations of corruption by persons who are major players in our partisan political system.
I find it useful from time to time to return to a release issued by the OCG on December 9, 2010, in which corruption was defined as follows:
"...the abuse of public office for private gain, corruption, which is often driven by individual greed, will manifest itself in ways which are inimical to the national security and political and socio-economic interest of the world community of countries, of which Jamaica is a part. Its impact is incredibly wide.
"Corruption erodes the quality of life, leads to human rights violation, steals political elections, distorts financial markets, reduces investor confidence, increases the price of goods and services, undermines or destroys confidence in critical public institutions, and enables organised crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish."
It is evident that for many Jamaicans, corruption is an issue which naïve trouble-makers raise from time to time. For them, former Contractor General Greg Christie epitomised this and it is good that we have seen the back of him, and hope that the current contractor general will somehow cower in face of the negativity which was portrayed regarding his predecessor.
I find it impossible to recall a public report from the OCG which has not been a source of controversy, with some persons giving the impression that anything coming out of that office reflects either incompetence or malice. For others, an advocacy group like the National Action Forum, whose stated aims are to combat the corruption plaguing the Jamaican society, reduce the level of frustration amongst champions of integrity, and contribute to concrete results which can dispel the pervasive perception that Jamaica is amongst the most corrupt of Caribbean countries, are persons with a self-serving agenda that is not to be taken seriously.
Having sought to isolate those institutional expressions of anti-corruption advocacy and positioning, the hope seems to be to leave enough of a void that confusion and misunderstanding will abound around the raising of the head of corruption, thereby leading ultimately to a lack of effective action.
As expected, the political enclave has responded in the usual manner. The governing political party has closed ranks and waffled on the issue, and has not given a clear statement on the issue of corruption raised. All that has happened is a grudging concession to public pressure and, only after the issue made the BBC news with uncomplimentary statements being made about the Government's handling of the matter.
The Opposition has also taken a predictable adversarial position, indicating its willingness to withdraw from participation in the meetings of Parliament if the minister involved in the Spalding Market report did not resign.
What we have not had from both sides of the political divide is a clear articulation of the basis for accepting or rejecting the allegations of corruption in a way that enlightens and speaks to the nation.
As other persons enter the fray, there are statements about a conspiracy among "vampires" to get at politicians, while others take a reductionistic position and determine that corruption is to be evaluated solely on the basis of whether there has been personal gain or benefit, particularly of a financial nature.
There being no evidence of this, then allegations of corruption must be dismissed in the Spalding Market saga. Not to be outdone are those who seek to characterise those who speak in support of the contract general's findings as persons of privilege who are opposed to the interests and well-being of the poor, thereby suggesting the operation of classism in the positions taken.
Not to be forgotten are those who are prepared to suggest that all that happened in the cases brought by the contractor general are manifestations of good intentions gone awry, due to the constraints of bureaucratic red tape.
As citizens who have to cope with an abundance of red tape in dealing with public and private sector entities, can you imagine what would be the consequence for society if this argument were advanced to justify the many ways in which we could circumvent the bureaucracy?
A decade or so ago, we could go along with this and say that this is just the way of our local politics but, as the BBC coverage has made clear, this is not just a local/national issue. It has serious implications for our perception and ranking in the international arena.
What must be a matter of serious concern is the conduct of our politicians, whose behaviour has come under scrutiny. We have seen over time behaviours of arrogance, defiance, and disrespect for those entrusted with legitimate authority to rule on such matters, and we are yet to see the emergence of a culture of political maturity which is willing to take a voluntary leave of absence, to facilitate investigation and clearance of one's name, if innocence is later established.
Such an approach would go a long way in avoiding the kind of unfortunate blood-letting, name-calling, and bad-blood which have emerged in recent days.
There is an old saying which speaks of the moment "when the penny drops". It addresses a belated realisation of something significant after a period of confusion or misunderstanding. Perhaps, however, the penny has not yet dropped for political leaders and people alike.
-- Howard Gregory is the Lord Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands