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Jamaica not seriously ready to fight corruption — Bishop Gregory

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 23, 2014    

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GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman — Anglican Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, the Rt Rev Dr Howard Gregory, has suggested that Jamaica is still not ready to deal with the issue of corruption "in an open, mature, and responsible manner, regardless of the persons who are allegedly involved".

Speaking at a plenary round table entitled, 'The Role of the Church in Preserving Ethics, Trust and Morality, at a Caribbean conference hosted by the University College of the Cayman Islands in this financially wealthy British territory on Friday, Bishop Gregory said that Jamaica needed to get serious about keping the scourge in check, otherwise, the nation will suffer even more serious consequences.

"Transparency International has produced figures indicating the economic and social cost to nations across the world as a result of corruption. It is worthy of note that Jamaica, was ranked at number 83 in 2012 by that institution. In a country like Jamaica in which the major expenditures within the economy come from government contracts, it is therefore, vital that the anti-corruption agenda takes centre stage," the bishop argued.

"Many Jamaicans make corruption a partisan political issue, which one party and its followers use to gain political mileage over against the other. Indeed, in what is of the nature of an oxymoron, it often becomes a kind of comic circus of a tragic nature, by which following a general election, millions of dollars and creative energy are put into investigations of the outgoing political party by the incoming one, in one of the most wasteful exercises, achieving absolutely nothing of consequence at the end of the day.

"But corruption is not just about politicians and public servants. For many Jamaicans, corruption is a kind of conversation piece for the verandah, as it is deemed not to have anything to do with us but with politicians, public servants, the "big man", and the party "faithfuls". Corruption is something which involves members of the society at every level. Yes, when citizens pass cash to a policeman to avoid getting a ticket; do not bother to have the car go to the Examination Depot to have it passed for a Certificate of Fitness, but send along some extra cash with the papers; or when one purchases goods from persons who are not legitimate and boast of the bargain price, they are complicit in the corruption in the society," Bishop Gregory told the audience.

He said that the Church was vital to educating the populace in the fight to stamp out corruption, which is said to be one of the main challenges faced by emerging states.

"What has happened in this modern world is that political systems and those responsible for governance have been assuming more and more control over various areas of the life of citizens. There are laws governing every area of our life and which are becoming more and more intrusive and controlling as we are being led to believe that government knows best and acts in the interest of the nation.

"The point of all of this is that, as the system of governance takes more and more control over the life of citizens, there seems to be no commensurate exploration of the kind of values which are informing the decisions being made by those in governance, and the extent to which these reflect the highest level of moral and ethical values of the members of the society, or merely a power grab by elected officials.

"The mature and transparent exercise of our democracy points to the need for serious and ongoing education of our people regarding the nature of corruption in a comprehensive way. In this way, judgements regarding manifestations of corruption from any source may be made with clarity, regardless of the persons or institutions involved. It would then become clear to all and sundry that among other consequences, corruption undermines and destroys confidence in critical public institutions, including our institutions and system of governance," Bishop Gregory stated.

He said that people should see clearly that a growing segment of the population was becoming "increasingly sceptical" of Jamaica's political system, which he said would not affect the way that party loyalists operate, but would serve as a wound in the heart of the nation's democracy.

"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 international agencies like Transparency International are making plain, this is not just a local/national issue. It has serious implications for our perception and ranking in the international arena.

"There is need also for the Church to play an advocacy and prophetic role in fearlessly raising up in the public consciousness manifestations of corruption and in supporting measures to bring perpetrators to justice and to bring about an end to such activities. This advocacy role must involve supporting initiatives which are geared toward legislative changes that strengthen the anti-corruption measures of the nation, such as the proposal to bring the diverse agencies dealing with aspects of corruption under one umbrella for greater effectiveness.

"After repeated utterances from successive governments, one still sees public agencies in violation of anti-corruption procedures and guidelines with impunity," he said.

Highlighting a report that cited violations at the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), in which contractors at the NSWMA had their contracts terminated and other people hired to do the same jobs, Bishop Gregory said that it showed that the process lacked fairness and was irregular.

"What must be a matter of serious concern is the way in which politicians, whose behaviour have come under scrutiny for allegations of corruption, behave. We have seen over time manifestations 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 the clearance of one's name, if innocence is later established.

"Such an approach would go a long way in avoiding the kind of unfortunate bloodletting, name-calling, and bad blood which has emerged from time to time. In the long run it is hoped that we shall be able to see an acknowledgement of guilt, if and when guilt is established, as those who cannot accept responsibility where they have erred may not be fit for leadership in governance," he said.

Bishop Gregory is adamant that the Church must also "partner with other agencies and institutions which share a commitment to transparency and the pursuit of the anti-corruption agenda". This, he said, needed a coming together or the various ecumenical partners, as he believes that no single religious denomination or tradition can effectively confront corruption.

"This partnership will also involve partnering with people of other faith traditions. There are also other agencies and non-governmental organisations, such as the National Integrity Action Forum in Jamaica, which may have as its primary objective the alleviation of corruption in the society.

"In addition, it has been found that agencies with international connections can also be effective allies in bring pressure to bear on national governments who may be intransigent in dealing with matters of corruption.

"Very often when public figures have allegations of corruption laid against them, they are quick to point out that they have not broken any laws. It is, therefore, important to understand that corruption is not just about laws but is at base about ethics and morality in governance and social relations," the bishop said.

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