Monday, February 27, 2012

Jamaica must win the war on corruption


Observer column | Monday, February 27, 2012

Several young people who did not bother to vote in the December elections told us that they were disillusioned — they had little faith in either political party. Now as the parties prepare for Local Government elections next month, they should be working to earn the confidence of our young people.

We are hearing allegations of corruption regarding the fires at the Riverton dump and the slow response which resulted in an environmental crisis. While the politicians do their finger-pointing, residents in the area continue to suffer. This is the problem with corruption. It does not remain under the table where envelopes change hands. It spreads its slimy tentacles over the entire nation — public and private sector, rich and poor. In an address at a PSOJ event last year, Professor Trevor Munroe, director of the National Integrity Action Forum (NIAF), spoke on the topic, "Combatting Corruption, Building Integrity, Strengthening Governance".

"While the beneficiaries of corruption in the public and private sectors enjoy the fruits of ill-gotten gains," said Professor Munroe, "amongst our people, the combination of economic distress, personal vulnerability to violent criminals, distrust of public institutions, disgust at corruption in high places and increasing social disorder is seriously undermining confidence in public institutions, even support for democracy. Indeed, available evidence points to a growing tendency towards authoritarian solutions. This turning away from democracy has got to be arrested and can be arrested."

He called on all sectors to raise the level of resistance against corruption. A gentleman I know got his business in Kingston burnt out when he refused to supply the community "don" with his demands and had to flee the country after receiving death threats when he reported the matter. Only last Thursday, we heard that Vanity Food Fair in St Catherine was torched — the owner had been gunned down some time ago. A relative was heard asking if there was no place in these communities for decent business people to operate. But there is also a less visible form of corruption happening in both the private and public sectors. The shaken victims are warned, "This is a small country — speak at your peril."

Professor Munroe appealed: "Those who resist and those who stand up need support, need reinforcement to be more effective if, ultimately, frustration is not to get the better of them and they ask themselves 'what's the point?' I know one such is Greg Christie; I ask the PSOJ and all well-thinking Jamaicans to call on him to make himself available for renewal of his contract when it expires!"

Professor Munroe pointed out "four man-made circumstances" which had opened up the opportunities for Jamaica to move swiftly to address such issues. He cited "public servants of integrity asserting professionalism", giving the examples of Greg Christie, then Customs Chief Danville Walker, Commissioner Ellington, Major General Saunders, Major General Anderson, and ACP Felice. He saw "an awakening of civil society - more active media, churches/denominations overcoming differences, human rights, environmental, grass-roots groups talking out".

He also noted "a more interventionist private sector - importantly embracing in the organisation small people like taxi operators, craft vendors, etc, and with a national vision superceding partisan support" and "more assertive international partners" like the IMF which helped to inspire JDX and the US Department of Justice which filed for the Coke extradition.

One thing we know for sure, the tightening global economy will result in choosier investors. Let us fight corruption to receive a solid rating as a good place to do business.

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