Something Rotten

In the state of Denmark, yes.  A Jamaican version of “Hamlet” would be a challenge for any playwright (who would be our Ophelia, for example?) but let’s just insert the name of our hapless island in there, for Denmark, anyway.

Last week was celebrated (if that’s the word) as International Anti-Corruption Day.  And oh, it is always so much easier to stand up and make a fine speech about corruptionthan it is to actually do something about it.

UN Anti-Corruption logo
A great logo... but are we taking action, today?

Our local anti-corruption warrior brought together two leading politicians, with the aim of pointing their noses in the direction of campaign finance reform, for a start.  Fine, as far as it goes, although both political parties are wreathed in ambivalence on that particular topic.  We won’t hold our breath, will we?

I won’t quote all the lofty words that were spoken by the speakers – I am sure they all meant well.  A police official spent less time beating about the bush.  He told us that most Jamaican police officers fail lie-detector tests, and that corruption is still a major challenge.

Danish family
Could life ever be this perfect? A corruption-free Danish family.

But as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says, “corruption afflicts all countries” – although ironically, it hardly afflicts the aforementioned Denmark, which is the second squeaky-cleanest country in the world after New Zealand, according to Transparency International‘s Corruption Perceptions Index.  Times have changed since Shakespeare’s day.  By the way, Jamaica is 86th on TI’s Index, so semi-rotten by global standards.  I wonder about a country like Somalia, which festers at the bottom; have Somalis completely given up on their society and their economy?

Internally displaced children in a makeshift camp outside Mogadishu, Somalia, 2009
It is said that the most corrupt countries in the world are among the poorest...

The Petchary has this deep, gut feeling that, well – perhaps we really can’t do much about corruption.  We can spend millions on anti-corruption conferences, we can speak for hours, we can conduct anti-corruption campaigns, we can run for office on an anti-corruption platform, we can come up with action plans.  We can wag our fingers and say how terribly bad it is, and hope someone is listening.  But it will go on.  It might go underground, but it will be like an underground stream that never runs dry and that wells up when the rain falls.

The image of corruption as a stream, tainting everything in its path, is indeed a popular one.  But a more appropriate image to me is that of a stagnant pool of water.  As I pass the dismal gullies and drains of the city of Kingston, it is the kind of pollution that makes me quickly turn my head away.  It is the stench that hangs over inner-city communities, especially on a hot and windless summer’s day – one that the residents have become accustomed to.  They live with it.


Garbage in Kingston Harbour
The gullies are purged of their garbage during heavy rains...the pollution is simply transferred into Kingston Harbour.

It is a filthy pool – sometimes sickly-green with algae or colored with chemicals, sometimes with the greyish film of untreated sewage.  It contains plastic bottles, and “scandal” bags (for the non-Jamaican, this is a black plastic shopping bag) containing something we would rather not know about, and the urine of rats and breeding mosquitoes.

That’s corruption.

Another image is also a watery one – that of the mighty ocean, as described, with a growing sense of horror and disgust, in Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”  Thus…

The very deep did rot: O Christ!/That ever this should be/Yea, slimy things did crawl with legs/Upon the slimy sea.

It’s the word “upon” that I always find disturbing.  The rot is so deep and thick that these creatures (“things”) cannot swim in it, they slither on the surface.

The Rotting Sea from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner"
A rotting ship on a rotting sea, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's nightmare vision.

Truly rotten, like the ship that sails on it.  The ship of state, perhaps.

Talking of politics, here in Jamaica the election campaign grinds on, bedecked with flags on every light pole, buxom dancing women, the eternal vuvuzelas, and the Green and Orange Ones hugging and squeezing each other for the cameras, hoping to appear on TV or in the newspapers.  They call that little charade “a show of unity.”

It’s a show, all right.  More anon.  Still two long weeks to go, and I’ve stopped counting the days until Christmas.




6 thoughts on “Something Rotten

  1. As for corruption, it is a universal problem; in the West and in the East. We know the story how the powerful nations support corrupt leaders until they no longer tow the line… 😉
    Your elections should be fodder fro more posts. May the best man win!


  2. The Netherlands does well on the corruption scale, but I’ve lived in one country and visited many, many others where it is common practice. Your question of whether most countries can ever grow out of this entrenched way of getting by is intriguing and sad. I want to say ‘yes, eventually, over time’ and believe it, but… Yet when you think of the greatest leaders over the centuries, many have emerged from poverty and corrupt societies to lead for change. I’d like to think there are others out there, in the making.


    1. Yes, Linda. I would really like to think so too. Sometimes I become so pessimistic, and cynical. It’s a “Third World” affliction, I think. You get the feeling (whether you are an ex-pat or not) that things are never going to change. The French have that expression “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.” The more things change, the more they are the same thing. But… let’s hope shall we?


  3. I am SURE it’s no coincidence, Jack. It just eats away at our economy – as our Prime Minister did note in his speech on Anti-Corruption Day. But as I said, talking about it is one thing – doing something about it is another!


  4. Corruption is truly a scourge of all modern societies and very corrosive in poorer nations trying to develop. Here in Turkey, greasing the palm and patronage still make the wheels turn. It seems to me that it’s no co-incidence that the least corrupt nations are also among the richest and most egalitarian such as Sweden and Finland.


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