It shall come to pass

HOWARD GREGORY

Sunday, May 26, 2019

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W e have heard constantly that among the major obstacles to our development as a nation are the high level of crime and violence and the high level of corruption which prevail within the society. The cries from every level of society for measures to address both challenges are deafening. In desperation, the institutions of government and the security forces have been trying all kinds of strategies to address the problem of crime and violence, with mixed fortunes. We have not seen the same level of intentionality in relation to corruption.

In the field of strategic planning much is made of 'low-hanging fruits' as a place from which to take the first initiatives as the option for implementing the plan, as they offer the greatest possibility of realisation with the least possible resistance and kickback. While I would not for one moment suggest that the issue of corruption in the public sphere is an easy matter to address, I would venture to suggest that it is less of an intractable and unsolvable problem as crime and violence, and, if addressed, could help to generate public confidence, as well as the confidence of investors.

Over the last 12 months the nation has been reeling from the impact of the public disclosure of misconduct in the management of public funds in Petrojam, the Ministry of Education and their related institutions. Having been treated to the usual fare of nine-day wonders based on the allegations by the Opposition party, revelations in the media, and obfuscations from spokespersons in the Government, the nation is clear that what has transpired in these institutions are unacceptable, flagrant violations of fiduciary responsibility by public servants, and a lack of oversight and accountability in the management and discharge of the public trust and resources.

In fact, in some instances we are seeing a vulgar display of reward for those in violation, as well as the effrontery of offenders demanding compensation for such misconduct, while others retreat into silence or spin their own counter-narrative to the mismanagement and misconduct which have been revealed.

Where are we to turn for answers to the many questions which these occurrences raise for us regarding corruption within the life of our nation? We have been told that multiple agencies that have some investigative mandate are now addressing these situations. With the passage of time we may ask ourselves: What answers do we have regarding their investigations beyond little bits and pieces as tantalisers, but which offer no sense of where all of this is leading and what kind of outcome we can expect?

In the not-too-distant past, an officer known as the contractor general would have had the authority to carry out an investigation and to which outcome we could have some confidence that we would eventually have access as a people. Dissatisfaction among the political leaders of both political parties have led to the creation of a new entity, the Integrity Commission, which absorbed the duties of the contractor general and related agencies, but which modus operandi, as embodied in law, does not make it accountable to the public in ways that can generate public confidence. Accordingly, the officers of the new commission are muzzled to the extent that they cannot inform the nation if they are investigating an allegation of corruption and, in the end, they speak to the political leaders, who may choose to give us edited versions of their findings — as we are currently witnessing with the Mueller Report in the United States of America.

Additionally, the recent episodes carried in the media regarding the Integrity Commission's response to the report by former Contractor General Dirk Harrison, as well as the commission's own admission of being muzzled in its recent press conference, have left many feeling more confused than enlightened.

It should not surprise us then that the revelations of 2018 have factored high on Jamaica's two-point slippage in the rankings of Transparency International's 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI).

What then is our hope?

To my distress, I must draw your attention to the way in which two major challenges in the life of the nation have been handled and deposit the notion that, sadly, this is the way the corruption issue is likely to be addressed to the satisfaction of the Jamaican people and in our best interest.

The nation was faced some few years ago with the request for the extradition of Christopher “Dudus” Coke. The authorities and people, as a whole, retreated into silence or dawdled, out of fear in the first instance, and political expediency on the other. It took a clear and decisive message from the northern neighbour to make it clear that there was no option but to proceed with the extradition.

In a more far-reaching manner, this nation was heading on a course toward economic collapse. We all saw the problem. Jamaicans spoke about the actions that governments over several years needed to take to correct the situation, but we opted for a path of denial and political and social expediency. It took the International Monetary Fund, an external agency, to say to us that we have no choice but to take the bold step and correct those things which will make for our economic viability and strength as a nation. Today, we all celebrate the positive results we are seeing, the results of our own actions, although having waited on an outside voice to tell us what we all knew for many moons.

So now we must deal with corruption. We all know that things are amiss. We have now heard from the Integrity Commission that the law needs to be amended to give them the facility to do their work effectively and with the confidence of the Jamaican people. For my part, I am flabbergasted when I listen to the explanations offered for what constitutes corruption by our definition in this country. Everything tends to be labelled misconduct or given some nebulous definition which prevents prosecution of offenders. If other societies can be clear about corruption, so can we. Our political leaders must give us clear laws which define corruption without giving cover to offenders with the right connection.

I ask every Jamaican to take note of recent comments by the British High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad, quoted elsewhere. He asserted: “We're looking for results,” in directing comments to the Integrity Commission. He is reported as saying further that the Integrity Commission must be accountable and transparent so that it can deliver results in accordance with the expectations of the nation.

Some may ask if the high commissioner is meddling in our affairs. I believe he is simply calling it as he sees it. Fact is, his Government and, by extension, his taxpayers, are footing the bill for setting up the commission and other related institutions that are supposed to be involved in addressing the issue of corruption in our nation. Is he just mouthing words? I suggest not.

One of the things I usually point out to institutions with whom I am connected is that when you get funding from external agencies, do not mess around. Make sure you carry out the project for which the funds were intended and also that you can account for every cent. The high commissioner is sounding the alarm; if you take our money to address the issue of corruption we will not let you off the hook, that is what we intend to see.

So, having muted and circumvented the cry of Jamaicans to end this culture of corruption for eons, the desires of our hearts shall now come to pass. Speak on, High Commissioner!


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