Bad company


Bad company

Jamaica slips further into group of countries with perceived major corruption problems


Friday, January 24, 2020

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THE resignation of Ruel Reid as minister of education last March before his arrest and charge months later, and the Government's failure to make the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) an independent organisation are some of the factors believed to be behind the worsening perception of the level of corruption in Jamaica.

Transparency International yesterday released the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which showed Jamaica slipping four places since 2018 to be 74 of the 180 countries ranked. The island recorded a CPI score of 43 this year, a slight slip from the 44 recorded last year.

The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, according to experts and business people.

On the list, Jamaica is well behind The Bahamas (29) and Barbados (30), which are perceived to be the least corrupt of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) states.

St Vincent and the Grenadines (39), Dominica (48), St Lucia (48), and Grenada (53) are all perceived to be less corrupt than Jamaica, while Guyana — which the report noted made significant improvements last year — and Trinidad and Tobago (joint 85) are perceived to be more corrupt than Jamaica.

Denmark and New Zealand are perceived to be the least corrupt countries in the world, while Syria, South Sudan, and Somalia are the most corrupt.

According to Transparency International, this year's analysis shows corruption is more pervasive in countries where big money can flow freely into electoral campaigns, and where governments listen only to the voices of wealthy or well-connected individuals.

Transparency International warned that countries in the Americas face significant challenges from political leaders acting in their own self-interest at the expense of the citizens they serve.

“Specifically, political party financing and electoral integrity are big challenges,” the watchdog agency said.

The issue of political party financing was also highlighted as one of the factors that impacted Jamaica's CPI last year by Professor Trevor Munroe, head of the local anti-corruption agency National Integrity Action (NIA), during a media briefing yesterday to mark the release of the Transparency International report.

Munroe noted that the CPI, over the years, has placed Jamaica among the two-thirds of countries in the world that score under 50. It uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.

He said that Jamaica has consistently ranked near the bottom half of states listed by Transparency International with the CPI measuring the perception and not necessarily the reality of the level of corruption. “Because corruption generally comprises deliberately hidden illegal activities, which only come to light in scandals, investigations or prosecutions.”

“Measuring any of those may simply be an indicator of the capacity or lack thereof of investigators, journalists or prosecutors, and not the extent of actual corruption. Hence, the CPI deliberately measures how corrupt a country's public sector is perceived by experts and remains the most widely used indicator of corruption worldwide,” added Munroe.

The NIA head argued that there were some mitigating factors, including the effectiveness of offices such as the Auditor General's Department, but these were not enough to prevent the decline in Jamaica's anti-corruption score over the past two years.

“To arrest and reverse this decline in 2020 requires a broad coalition for integrity-comprising civil society organisations, the private sector, the Church, the media, public officials — including politicians of integrity — and the 'man in the street',” added Munroe.

He said members of that anti-corruption coalition must insist on measures, such as the immediate tabling of regulations to make MOCA an independent body, the public disclosure of the Petrojam Investigation Report and early parliamentary approval of the new regulations to reduce partisan political influence on the selection of boards of public entities.

Munroe's call for an anti-corruption coalition was supported by Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck and Opposition spokesman on national security Fitz Jackson, who both addressed yesterday's media briefing.

“This is not a political issue, this is about the national development of our country and the future of all Jamaicans,” said Jackson, a position which was endorsed by the justice minister.

“Crime, corruption, indiscipline, disorder are really Jamaica's problems that every single one of us, every Jamaican, must be determined to reduce and eliminate,” declared Chuck.

Trevor Munroe's proposals to reduce the perception of corruption in Jamaica:

1. Immediate tabling in Parliament of long pending regulations to bring MOCA into operation, fully independent of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.

2. Public disclosure of the Petrojam Investigation Report and, thereafter, action by the director of corruption prosecution of the Integrity Commission.

3. Early parliamentary approval of the new regulations to reduce partisan political influence on the selection of boards of public entities.

4. Prioritisation of the trial of former Minister Reid, et al. It cannot be acceptable that the resolution of this matter drags on for six years, as was the case with former Minister Kern Spencer.

5. The immediate establishment and operationalisation of the parliamentary committee to provide oversight of the Integrity Commission as a critical first step to giving the Integrity Commission a “fresh start”, including review of the Integrity Commission Act to allow greater transparency in its operation.

6. Prompt commencement of public awareness building and the scrupulous application of campaign finance regulations in relation to the forthcoming elections.

7. Enforcement of the sections of the Procurement Act which require restitution of losses to the public purse by public officers responsible.

8. Expeditious completion of natural consensus programme in reducing crime and violence, including anti-corruption measures.

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