Public sector corruption and the birth of a scandalThursday, November 11, 2021
O'Neil W Grant
Whenever the average person thinks about corruption they envision some public official demanding favours to either do their job or turn a blind eye. They also see individuals using their position to enrich themselves by bending the system.
The premier Jamaican anti-corruption legislation, the Corruption Prevention Act, was designed to treat with and align to this perception and watchdog institutions would have been created to prevent, detect, and punish acts of corruption done by public officers; for example, the Integrity Commission, so created under legislation having merged three anti-corruption agencies.
However, the “corruption” laws of the land do not seem to focus on the powerful, private, moneyed interests outside of the public sector, those holders of significant resources that threaten, induce and entice public officials to act corruptly, but focuses on the public officer as the initiator of corruption.
Private interests are targeted under the various legislations that look at the proceeds from criminal activity and money laundering and can oftentimes defend themselves or cover their tracks very well to avoid detection and prosecution.
The complexity of corruption in the public sector — and the inability of the Government to recoup wasted expenditure — lies in the inability to determine who the real actors are. The private sector has developed governance codes and asked the public sector to adopt them in the running of boards and have also been given seats on boards to ensure that the boards act as a strong buffer against acts of corruption in public office. In pursuit of this mandate policies are set to ensure good governance and that the public boards conform to the Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act and the Corporate Governance Framework of the Government of Jamaica.
However, we have seen time and time again that boards violate their very own governance arrangements and that of the Government of Jamaica and would not have lived up to the standard that the private sector, from whence many of the board members come, would have been applied to ensure best practices in the stewardship of these boards.
As a seasoned public officer, there have been many an occasion when a directive comes from “upstairs” to do something to facilitate a policy directive. The job of the public officer is to ensure that the directives from upstairs arecarried out within the confines of the laws and regulations governing the public sector.
The public sector which is heavily rules based — and is so for the very reason which is to protect and insulate the public administration from acting recklessly with public funds and to account for every cent spent without being or appearing to be partisan. Hence, one could clearly make the case that most acts of corruption does not arise from the initiation of the public officer, but from external sources in an attempt to bend or circumvent the highly rules-based system of public administration.
Those from outside of the public bureaucracy try to avoid these rules and, hence, we have funds that may have been spent for the purpose intended, but would not have followed the well-laid-out process or the government policy to arrive at that intended end. The result is that these acts of avoidance of the bureaucracy result in the allegations of corruption and waste, and, ultimately, a scandal is born.
O'Neil W Grant, MBA, is president of the Jamaica Civil Service Association. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.