Dealing with corruption must not be compromised as we address procurement issues
Various estimates suggest that Jamaica loses five per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) to corruption annually.
As we understand it, that equates to approximately US$800 million. Shortcomings in health, education, security, et al, which such funds could address are aplenty.
Corruption in high places has plagued Jamaica for a long time and the public perception is that it is getting worse.
Hence the recent lament by Mr Mikael Phillips, Opposition Member of Parliament for Manchester North Western, that people view every politician as a “thief”.
That perception and reality explain tangled procurement procedures which have long triggered the ire of political representatives across party lines. They complain of their efforts to get projects done frustrated too frequently.
Frustration, even anger, with the procurement bureaucracy appears to have reached a new high in recent weeks.
The perfectly logical push for transparency and accountability is backfiring because of inordinate delays, with projects which should be reasonably lasting a year or less taking years in some cases, legislators say.
The process is one thing, but in typically mild-mannered fashion, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton points a finger at those who execute.
“… I’m not prepared to blame just the process as the cause of the length of time, because I do believe that sometimes there isn’t sufficient capacity at the level of those who are managing … This means that mistakes can be made at times, or clarity is required because of uncertainties and that slows down the process even further,” Dr Tufton said.
Fear of failure may be part of the problem.
“I have had civil servants come to me and are literally super-cautious… because that fear of reputational damage is greater than the need to solve the problem …,” said Dr Tufton.
All of which means efficient governance is undermined.
Says Dr Tufton: “What you have, as I have interpreted it, is a system that allows political cycles, under the constitution, to be five years and a procurement process could take up to two and a half years… To me, it really compromises or undermines the capacity of any Administration in power …”
Ultimately, such inefficiency increases public distrust and disaffection with governance — to such an extent that many people turn away. As we keep saying, it’s not accidental that only 38 per cent of Jamaicans eligible to vote did so in parliamentary elections three years ago.
Note the words of Government MP for Trelawny Northern, Ms Tova Hamilton regarding procurement inefficiencies: “This affects my stewardship as MP because when I indicate to constituents that projects will be undertaken and significant time elapses with no implementation it creates a trust deficit and a whole lot of doubt, owing in large part to their decades-old experiences of false promises…”
What’s to be done? Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke speaks of a redoubling of efforts to train public servants in the use of the Procurement Act. He has also spoken of a review of the Act and a “few amendments” to make the system more efficient.
Whatever is done there needs to be balance, since corruption and the threat thereof are as real as ever.
We dare not throw out the baby with the bath water.