Jamaica's greatest stumbling blockFriday, June 04, 2021
Over the years, the fight against corruption in Jamaica, especially in the political arena, has been met with much scepticism and confusion with respect to its definition. What cannot be denied is that corruption is among the main things killing”the Jamaican economy — the other two being crime and a stifling bureaucracy.
In this vein, National Integrity Action (NIA), a non-governmental organisation, has worked assiduously to sensitise civil society about the ills and deleterious effects of corruption. But one of the NIA's most serious challenges is not so much corruption, in and of itself, but what is the average Jamaican's perception of that national malady. After all, many Jamaicans see “beating the system” as an expedient way to circumvent red tape and scrutiny in order to successfully pursue their goals.
In a land where Anancyism is King, and where Jamaicans have been described by the late Professor Rex Nettleford as having a psyche that is laced with an abundance of larceny, defining corruption remains one of the greatest obstacles towards minimising it. The harsh reality is that corruption has become a way of life for too many of our citizens. For example, when a Member of Parliament (MP) calls up or writes a principal asking him or her to accept a student who had not been admitted through the normal channels into that institution, is that an act of corruption?
Members of Parliament are vested with all types of perceived power and authority by constituents who expect them to turn water into wine and produce a successful solution to every problem, regardless of the consequences. And therein lies the seed of corruption!
Unfortunately, despite numerous calls and promises, we are yet to see any genuine attempts being made to come up with a clearly defined job description for MP. Quite frankly, as has become painfully obvious in recent times, many of our newly elected political representatives do not have a clue as to what is the real role as legislators. Implicit in their behaviour and pronouncements one gathers that they primarily see themselves as purveyors of scarce benefits and spoils, which often leads to battles between our two warring tribes — the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP).
In my view, even with the best of intentions, the NIA so far has not succeeded in clearly defining in the minds of Jamaicans what is an act of corruption. This is by no means to discredit the work of that organisation, which oftentimes has been a lone voice in the wilderness, crying out like John the Baptist. Its honcho, Professor Trevor Munroe, himself suffers from a trust deficit as his detractors have sought to paint him in a partisan light because of his previous political pursuits. It behoves all well-thinking citizens to support the work of the NIA, and we should encourage that body to launch an even more intensive as well as extensive campaign which should involve the defining of the true role of a Member of Parliament vis a vis public spending, as against their being a legislator and constituency advocate.
Interestingly, both supporters of the PNP and the JLP continue to point fingers at each other as if to say neither is, at any time, embroiled in a hotbed of corruption. And, while the finger-pointing continues, there are those who maintain a seemingly sanctimonious stance, while civil society is rife with cynicism (a pox on both their houses), leaving the diehards to perpetuate minority governments in a democracy where the adage “the greatest good for the greatest number” remains an elusive dream.
It is not surprising in this scenario that many citizens have become increasingly aware that there is not much that any one individual can do to change this troubling situation. What is needed is a collective will that transcend narrow partisan considerations. But corruption has become so endemic in the Jamaican mindset it will take a generational shift to bring about meaningful transformation. In this vein, a national consensus must become paramount. But is this possible in an environment where even the colour that one wears can define and determine one's existence and survival?
In this vein, I continue to insist that character education should be taught from the basic school right up to the tertiary level, bearing in mind that there is the all-pervasive view when it comes to certain corrupt acts that “ah nuh nutten” as many Jamaicans feel that it is all right to “tief” from government; just don't get caught!
Especially in a socio-economic setting in which the cost of living — as well as dying — is very high and, with Jamaicans infected with a very serious case of consumerism, larceny, embezzlement, pilfering, and scamming have become most commonplace. Not even that enterprising Trelawny crab farmer has been spared the greed and unconscionable behaviour of criminals. Of course, corruption in public life is not a problem for Jamaica alone. Where you have politicians and money intertwined, there will inevitably be corruption. Is there any practical way that politicians, as legislators, can be separated from the public purse? Then, again, it is not just the elected representative who is likely to plunder the national till. It is well known that theft, bribery, graft, and corruption of all stripes are to be found in the Jamaica public service, but somehow the MPs and councillors are the ones who are most fingered by civil society and the media.
Buju Banton, in one of his popular songs, declares “Tief never like fi see tief with long bag.” Many people who accuse politicians or other public servants of corruption are themselves corrupt, but oftentimes become embittered because their snouts are far removed from the trough. In this regard, the 'crabs in a barrel' mentality holds sway, whereby even the innocent citizen may become a victim of chicanery.
To date, both Mark Golding, leader of Opposition, and Prime Minister Andrew Holness continue to preside in their respective roles over one of the most corrupt countries in the world. When will they sufficiently bell the cat? Or are they too embedded in the belly of the beast?
If corruption is Jamaica's greatest stumbling block to prosperity, then it would seem to me that this nation will remain overly impoverished for a long time to come, unless the culture of dependency is removed and the majority of politicians and civil society leaders are prepared to say enough is enough. A good place to start is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 44 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica, where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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