Advancing the legacy

Advancing the legacy

Will Holness, Christie implement their vision?

Howard Gregory

Sunday, August 02, 2020

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The cycle of human life and history is characterised by various times and seasons, marked by changes in the flow of the solar system, weather, celebrations, and observances of varying personal or social significance. In recent times I have been led to conclude that just as people talk about a thing called “silly season”, we in Jamaica have one called “corruption season”; when for a few days or a few weeks we go through a time when we engage in a charade in which we talk about corruption, point fingers at who we consider corrupt, attempt to balance the scales in terms of which side of the partisan political divide is more corrupt, but, at the end of the day, having no desire to do anything to change the situation.

So, our pollsters tell us that when one of the most sacred moments in the life of the nation comes around — a general election — corruption does not factor in our voting patterns. We know that soon we will return, once more, to the season for conversation and noise-making about corruption.

A major problem facing us then as a society is: On what do we place value, and what are the values that we will embrace as a people to guide us in building this nation?

This is an appropriate issue for focus this weekend when we think on 'Emancipendence' and what this all means for us; not just in looking at the struggles of the past, but where we want to go as a people and the kind of society we would like to build for the future.

Corruption is one of the biggest problems facing us as a nation as individuals in the public and private sectors opt to do what is wrong and against the interest and well-being of the wider society.

International body, Transparency International, defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain, which eventually hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority”.

Corruption comes in many guises — bribery, extortion, fraud, trafficking, embezzlement, nepotism, cronyism, and the abuse of legitimate authority. We have been splitting hairs in our determination to protect the status quo and not bring about changes to the level of corruption in our society. So we have established principles by which to define corruption in a way that excludes nepotism and cronyism, and then make a distinction between that which is criminal and that which is moral.

We are not the only society in which nepotism and corruption exist, but others have given legal definition to these; thereby making them criminal acts. At base, every expression of corruption provides unfair enrichment of individuals; provides opportunities for people who are usually not qualified for positions they are offered; robs the country of resources which could contribute to national developmental goals; while establishing an iniquitous system by which those who are qualified are discriminated against as they are denied equal opportunity to compete for employment or social benefits. In addition, as we have seen repeatedly, those who are employed under such circumstances receive levels of remuneration far in excess of any measure of parity.

We can spend this weekend recalling the struggles for liberation and subsequent nation-building by our ancestors, which constitute the foundation of our Emancipendence observances, but we must ask ourselves if the vision for which they fought was a nation in which corruption is prevalent with its nefarious consequences, or is it that we have dropped the ball and are betraying their trust?

Having mentioned the seasonal nature of our preoccupation with conversation about corruption without having either the will or consensus to act decisively in curbing it, I would like to draw attention to a conference which focused on corruption in 2014 and in which Andrew Holness (then leader of the Opposition) and the current executive director of the Integrity Commission, Greg Christie, had much to say. This conference was hosted by the University College of the Cayman Islands and was held under the theme 'Towards a Corruption-Free Caribbean: Ethics, Values, Trust and Morality'.

On that occasion Holness spoke on the topic 'Change in the Ethical and Anti-Corruption Framework of Jamaica: My Vision for Change'. He looked at the reality at the time pointing to leadership as a central player in addressing the situation, and called for a greater level of accountability, the need to curb some of the discretionary powers of leaders, and greater access of the public to information. In addition, he pointed out that not all corrupt acts are illegal, citing the practices of payola and insider trading; affirmed the role of the National Integrity Action and the Office of the Contractor General in tackling corruption; and advocated the establishment of a single anti-corruption institution. He reiterated the fact that the fight against corruption depends on the integrity of leaders.

Having looked at the reality of the situation he then advanced his vision for Jamaica in tackling corruption. His vision involved the evolution of the anti-corruption framework; a campaign to get citizens more engaged; the anti-corruption agenda moving more rapidly; the end to government ambivalence in addressing corruption; and a serious re-examination, if not revamping, of the bureaucracy in public institutions, as the process by which they function, including their inefficiencies, gives rise to opportunities for corruption.

Christie, for his part, offered his analysis of the prevailing situation at the time. Among the features he identified were the ineffectiveness of the leading anti-corruption institution; the lack of the political will to tackle the scourge; a disregard for the leading anti-corruption institution; the apparent idea of two laws in Jamaica as it relates to corrupt individuals and the rest of the society; the investigation and prosecution of corruption not occupying a place of priority; and the apparent apathy on the part of the public toward addressing corruption.

As was the case with Holness, Christie offered his vision or action plan for addressing corruption in Jamaica with effectiveness. Among the proposals offered by him were the establishment of a single anti-corruption agency with prosecutorial powers; the establishment of an independent procurement regulator; the establishment of a corruption court; the strengthening of the anti-corruption institutions; the enforcement of minimal standards of integrity; the introduction of tougher criminal sanctions; the imposition of criminal sanctions for the private sector where corruption is detected; and the introduction of laws governing political donations to regulate an avenue for possible corrupt activities.

Taken together, one could hardly expect to get a better articulation of the issues than is present in these two offerings. Six years later, however, we are still going through our seasons for the charade around corruption. Of note, there is one thing that is profoundly different this time around, and it is the opportunity to end this cycle of time-wasting, finger-pointing, and political one-upmanship. We now have Andrew Holness as the leader of Government, and we have Greg Christie at the helm of the commission charged with regulating and investigating issues related to corruption. We could not ask for a better confluence of anti-corruption forces. The question is: Will they implement their vision for addressing corruption in this nation? Or, perhaps more importantly, will we allow them to offer the leadership to make this happen? And, can we entertain the notion that we would offer our forebears in the struggle for liberation and Independence no better homage than to forge a society in which corruption is fettered and there is justice, equality, mercy, accountability, and right actions and relations with each other.

We know what we need to do, so let us not wait on external entities to continue calling us out on our handling of corruption, or, worse yet, invoke some threat of revocation of travel and other international privileges before we do that which is incumbent upon us.

Howard Gregory is archbishop of the Province of the West Indies, primate and metropolitan, as well as bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands


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