“You could call this a ‘good news’ press conference,” said National Integrity Action (NIA) Chairman Martin Henry, welcoming the Jamaican media and others this morning for a briefing on the new Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2015 released today by Transparency International (TI) in Berlin. NIA is the Jamaica Chapter of TI. You can download the full report, which lays things out very clearly, from https://www.transparency.org/cpi2015/
The global picture is far from cheerful, however. Two thirds of the 168 countries on the CPI 2015 scored below 50 on a scale of zero to 100 (zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean). Denmark remained at the top, Somalia and North Korea tied at the bottom. Corruption remains “public enemy number one” in developing countries, said NIA Executive Director Professor Trevor Munroe, quoting UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon on World Anti-Corruption Day last year.
Of the 26 countries of the Americas ranked in 2015, Haiti and Venezuela scored lowest – both at 158th on the CPI with a score of 17. Canada was the highest in 10th place. Brazil fell the furthest; it had a rough year with the Petrobras scandal, falling to 76th on the CPI last year. We will recall the widespread public anti-corruption protests in Brazil and Guatemala last year. These resulted in criminal investigations now ongoing in Brazil; and in Guatemala, the resignation and indictment of former President Otto Pérez Molina last September. Perhaps these grassroots anti-corruption movements bring hope for the future. Perhaps people are simply tired of “grand corruption.”
So, how did Jamaica do? Actually, rather well – hence the smiles. It was the only country in the Americas to have improved its score by three or more points, advancing from 38 to 41 points. In fact it is one of only 20 countries globally that improved by this margin. This pulls Jamaica out of the bottom half of the Americas’ ranking for the first time in nine years (during which it was “marking time” in Professor Munroe’s words), placing it at 69th out of 168 countries. Jamaica moved up 16 places, from 85th out of 175 countries on the CPI in 2014. Jamaica actually ranks seventh out of 26 countries in the Americas – after Canada, the United States, Uruguay, Chile, Costa Rica and Cuba. I notice that few Caribbean countries appear on the CPI, however – I am not sure why this is.
NIA and its partners would like to take some credit for this positive development; and so, I believe, they should. The Ministry of Justice and successive Justice Ministers; civil society organizations, community-based organizations and community development committees, under the banner of the Social Development Commission (SDC); and faith-based organizations such as the Spanish Town Ministers Fraternal (who attended the briefing) – all played their part. Professor Munroe believes these important partnerships are beginning to show results, although there is still a long way to go. He particularly thanked the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) office in Jamaica for its “indispensable” support for NIA and for Jamaican civil society in general.
So what is the background to Jamaica’s upward movement? Well, certainly there have been louder and more effective demands from the Jamaican public for Government accountability and transparency. The Government has been forced to respond, albeit sometimes belatedly. For example, there were the changes in the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) board after another disastrous fire at the Riverton garbage dump; and the resignation of the Chair of the National Housing Trust (NHT) in the wake of the “Outameni scandal.” Last year also there was the demand for greater transparency on the so-called “dead babies scandal,” resulting in the publication of the Ministry of Health audit. There have been other, smaller victories too. Performance audit and investigative reports by the Contractor General (OCG) and the Auditor General have made a difference; the OCG’s report uncovered corruption in the Hanover and St. Thomas Parish Councils, for example. The Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) has stepped up its game in the past year also, attacking police corruption and going after crime “kingpins” involved in corruption. After all, crime feeds on corruption in all its forms. MOCA’s conviction rate has also increased.
Professor Munroe also pointed to work that has been done on “long-pending” anti-corruption legislation. Progress has been made with the “Lotto Scam Act” and the outlawing of Ponzi schemes, for example. Parish Councils will undergo more oversight. There is the political party registration and campaign finance reform legislation, too, seeking to improve the electoral process. The Integrity Commission Act and some other legislative measures are still dragging their feet. Importantly, however, Professor Munroe emphasized that while there are shortcomings, the NIA does not believe in “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” It would prefer to work on “plugging the loopholes” (an expression used more than once), rather than rejecting legislation outright. This, the NIA believes, is a more constructive approach.
The NIA thinks Jamaica’s 2015 ranking bodes well for its socio-economic future. The Global Competitiveness Report 2015-16, for example, continues to identify corruption as high on the list of problems affecting Jamaica’s economic progress. One hopes that, going forward, the CPI ranking will encourage more investors and help create employment. It will not only help restore some public confidence that efforts are actually being made; it will also encourage NIA and its partners – at home and abroad, since corruption is a global problem – to persevere in their efforts to achieve a “culture change” among Jamaicans, especially the youth (by the way, most NIA members are indeed youthful!)
The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice Carol Palmer spoke for Minister Mark Golding, who was unable to attend. She welcomed NIA’s “proactive, constructive role,” adding that the Ministry has “conversations to hold” with Professor Munroe on a number of issues. She said the Government is seeking to “bring together agencies that currently operate in silos” in the anti-corruption fight. There is much on the legislative agenda that needs to be focused on. The Representation of the Peoples Act, which was passed in the Senate earlier this month, has now gone back to committee for proposed amendments to be discussed. Section 52 BB of the Act (that campaign donations received by candidates should be used only for financing their election campaigns, and not for personal expenses) is a particularly thorny issue.
Opposition Spokesman on Justice Delroy Chuck noted that inefficient, slow bureaucracy helps corruption to flourish. In Jamaica, it is often said (and in fact the current Finance Minister famously said this) that “he who plays by the rules gets shafted.” He raised the issue of electoral practices too, asserting that vote-buying is “widespread” and that people threaten not to vote unless they get paid. Professor Munroe responded that NIA’s latest set of television ads, to be rolled out soon, will focus on this very issue. The ads will point out that getting paid $5,000 or so to vote is not going to help Jamaicans, their families or the community in which they live in any way – not even in the short term.
Professor Munroe pointed to NIA’s substantial public education work, which has helped to raise awareness in the past year. It has produced two documentaries that are available on its website, on YouTube and that have been aired on both local TV stations. The third documentary, to be aired for the first time on TVJ on Sunday, January 31, is titled “Building Integrity” and focuses on the electoral system. This would be very timely, as there is speculation that on that same day the Prime Minister will finally announce the long-awaited election date at a public rally in Half Way Tree – possibly for late February.
NIA also believes in “face to face” education. It has organized town hall meetings across the island and participated in street meetings in Spanish Town and Montego Bay. Through USAID’s Comet II program, it has intensified its youth outreach. It has also helped establish Integrity Clubs in schools through a pilot program, which it intends to expand. It has partnered with the Jamaican Bar Association. Another partnership with the Spanish Town Ministers Fraternal has been quite effective; Bishop Dr. Rowan Edwards of the Lighthouse Assembly Ministry, who is Chairman of Spanish Town Revival, told us that through its continuous outreach, partnering with other faith-based and community groups, his church has seen a turn around in citizens’ approach to crime and corruption – in a town that has had serious struggles with those challenges. By the way, the group’s next “10,000 Men and Their Families” rally in Spanish Town will take place on Sunday, March 13 at 3:00 p.m. It’s good to see this activist approach.
“There is still a long way to go” in the struggle, emphasized Professor Munroe. On the current legislation, “We will not let those loopholes slide,” he added. While current legislation has its flaws, the NIA intends to “keep on pushing.” NIA Chair Martin Henry observed in closing that a balanced and co-operative approach is key: “We are not going to run through the town with a sledgehammer.”
Meanwhile, we must all play our part. Let’s keep the pressure up, on our Government and private sector. Moreover, let us help our communities get engaged in the fight against corruption. The infamous “informer fi dead” culture needs to go.