Let's get serious on corruption in politics

Let's get serious on corruption in politics

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

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Dear Editor,

A former Brazilian president is in currently in jail convicted for the second time on charges related to a vast corruption scheme spanning decades.

Israel's prime minister is also facing allegations of corruption, his wife (and first lady) was recently found guilty of fraud and breach of public trust having used State funds for lavish gourmet meals, despite being provided with a State-paid chef. She was fined for that crime and had to repay funds to the State.

A former Peruvian president was also arrested recently in the US on charges related to bribery.

In Jamaica, we seem to take a different approach, some prefer not to talk about it, or turn a blind eye as if it doesn't exist. It is difficult to understand why these type of white collar crimes are so hard to crack in Jamaica.

Attorney Kent Gammon, in an insightful newspaper article some two years ago, 'Light on corruption... the enemy of Jamaica's growth' , pointed out that, “Despite the Office of the Contractor General (OCG) legislated in 1985 to be a check and balance on corruption, of the 40 cases referred by the OCG to the director of public prosecutions (DPP) over the last nine years for prosecution the DPP has not prosecuted one single case.”

I think only one high-profile public official was ever charged and convicted of corruption and fraud, that was when former Jamaica Labour Party Minister of Labour and Social Services J A G Smith was convicted for embezzling funds for personal use from the farm work programme.

When funds are diverted for personal gain, the money trail shouldn't be difficult to trace, especially with the technology now available.

The DPP, in its ruling on the corruption probe at the Ministry of Education, Caribbean Maritime University and related agencies, stated that there is a “possibility” that laws had been broken, which really means that charges might or might not be laid. Possibility might be a legal term bordering on caution based on the well-known dictum: Innocent until proven guilty.

However, we do know how these high-profile cases usually end? The key players are usually well connected and lawyers often find technical interpretations in the law to prove them 'not guilty', regardless of the evidence.

Perhaps we do need a special Corruption Court to expeditiously deal with fraud and corruption cases which could also be a deterrence to those prone to these types of crime. Like the mafia, culprits are usually well-organised, slick, defiant, and defensive to the end.

It is paramount that we strengthen the approach in the fight against corruption from all angles. The billions lost over time to corruption could be better spent on services benefiting the public. Our system of prosecution must show guts by being more vigilant. Why does the DPP have to make rulings public ahead of arrests? When probes are drawn out this provides ample time for evidence to be destroyed and individuals to collaborate, key witnesses may also go in hiding.

We cannot continue to ignore the fact that corruption is an impediment to economic growth.

P Chin


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