Three days ago, the Executive Director of National Integrity Action (NIA), of which I am a proud member, spoke at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library as part of the CIN 12th Caribbean Lecture Series. While his audience may have been largely members of the substantial Jamaican diaspora in that great city, the message is loud and clear to all Jamaicans: Through partnerships and networks, we can tackle the insidious and persistent problem of corruption – which, of course, goes hand in hand with crime. N.B. I would also suggest that corruption is one of those “cross-cutting issues” that applies across sectors, like gender and climate change. So I would like to see anti-corruption issues mainstreamed in both the public and private sectors.
Here is the full text of Professor Munroe’s speech, below:
NOVEMBER 17, 2016
PRESENTATION BY PROFESSOR TREVOR MUNROE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTEGRITY ACTION
Mr. Master-of-Ceremonies Bob Gore, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, allow me first of all to thank Lowell Hawthorne for his kind words of introduction and at the same time to say to him on your behalf that he, his family, and Golden Krust Bakeries are an inspiration to us and a demonstration of the awesome potential of the Caribbean entrepreneur, particularly, from humble origins. Who else in the short space of twenty-five years (25) could have placed the Jamaican patty on almost the same level as the Italian pizza and the Chinese noodle in the constellation of ethnic delights in the United States. Let all those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, know that the Caribbean immigrant is not here to take away from the United States but to build up business, to encourage entrepreneurship and to enhance service to the benefit of all.
May I also thank Lowell for acknowledging some of the milestones on my journey to Schomburg Center this evening. I would like, with your permission, to make special mention of my parents, Huntley and Muriel Munroe, who did so much to instill positive values, most of all standing up for what is right without fear or favor; upholding the adage: “Honesty the best policy, cost it what it will.” My wife Ingrid, my most valued consultant – always with good advice and wise supportive counsel – especially when she tells me I’m talking “foolishness.” But also permit me to pay special tribute to St. George’s College and the Boston Jesuits who taught so many of us to think critically and to act courageously. It cannot be an accident, that so many who preceded me in this CIN Lecture Series, designed to be intellectually stimulating and to “provide hope and direction for the future” had their foundations laid at St. George’s College: Robert Hill, my classmate, the renowned Garvey Scholar; Ronnie Thwaites; Don Wehby, and of course, let us not leave out Bruce Golding who had impeccable beginnings at St. George’s up to fifth form; only he can tell us what happened after in sixth form at Jamaica College. I also would like to thank Stephen Hill, again my schoolmate and CEO of CIN for inviting me to give this lecture and at the same time to congratulate him for recent awards; the Visionary Award from the Mavis and Ephraim Hawthorne Golden Krust Foundation for the outstanding impact he is having, from conceiving and growing CIN to be the most viewed Caribbean channel in the Tri-State area. Stephen also had a most unique achievement last year. He along with another Georgian, Earl Jarrett, received the Trailblazer Award from the Jamaica College Old Boys Association!
I also want to thank our sponsors WIHCON – who by the way built Mona Heights fifty-odd years ago, a housing estate which helped to form the community spirit in me and in so many of my generation; Caribbean Airlines; Jamaica Impact Inc. (JAMPACT) and GraceKennedy, who stepped forward to be among the first from corporate Jamaica to make a contribution to National Integrity Action (NIA).
This evening as you know, I’ve come to share with you thoughts on Curbing Corruption…Jamaica’s Imperative. That is, curbing corruption, the abuse of position, whether that of President or Prime Minister, Pastor or CEO, civil servant or civil society activist; abuse of position for illicit personal gain at the expense of the public interest.
Curbing this scourge is of course not only a Jamaican necessity. Twenty years (20) ago, the states in the Western Hemisphere, recognising this scourge were moved to sign the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption (IACAC). Then ten years ago, the United Nations as a whole recognised that corruption was “no longer a local matter but a transnational phenomenon that affects all societies and economies” and established the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), acknowledging that “international cooperation to prevent and control [corruption] is essential.” Then just last year in September, the General Assembly of the United Nations recognised that transforming the world to achieve sustainable development for all mankind by 2030, required [Sustainable Development] Goal #16.5: “Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms.”
Why so, you may ask and where is this scourge to be found? I could do no better than cite the words of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, lest anyone be minded to believe that corruption is some special Jamaican sin: “This evil phenomenon is found in all countries – big and small, rich and poor – but it is in the developing world that its effects are most destructive.” Kofi Annan continued, and we in NIA fully agree: “Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign aid and investment. Corruption is a key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.” So we in Jamaica, alongside the international community have to face and to confront corruption.
Daunting as this task is, may I assure you of my absolute confidence that we as a Jamaican and a Caribbean people have within us and our society so much that is right that we can fix what is wrong. Despite the high levels of crime and corruption and all the negatives we hear too often about our country, those who are willing to be taught can still learn from Jamaica that “Out of Many, One People” can live together in relative harmony and with less distress than in most other countries of the world. With tensions rising between different colours and races in this otherwise wonderful United States of America, may I remind you of the reflections of one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, Martin Luther King Jr. When he visited Jamaica in June of 1965 to address my graduating class at the University of the West Indies, he said: “We travelled all over Jamaica. And over and over again I was impressed by one thing. Here you have people from many national backgrounds: Chinese, Indians, so – called negroes, and you can just go down the line, Europeans, and people from many many nations…and they say ‘here in Jamaica we are not Chinese, we are not Japanese, we are not Indians, we are not negroes, we are not Englishmen, we are not Canadians, but we are all one big family of Jamaicans.” Martin Luther King continued – and I ask you to listen carefully: “One day, here in America I hope that we will see this and we will become one big family of Americans.“ And you know what King said in addressing a huge audience at Jamaica’s National Stadium? He said he had never felt more at home anywhere else in the world: “In Jamaica I feel like a human being.” And so, as we tackle Jamaica’s imperative, curbing corruption, let us never forget that our people have deep strengths on which to draw and that so many who might be minded to put us down would do far better in learning from the positives of our society and of our people.
And we shall have to draw heavily on those positives to deal with the current magnitude of corruption. One plus is that the imperative and the challenge which it poses is largely recognised by our people and by our leaders. Surveys that have been done show that Jamaican people regard corruption, more than the International Monetary Fund, more than PNP or JLP mismanagement, as the number one reason for continuing economic hardships. In election after election – for example in 1972, again in 2007 and once more in 2011 – our people have voted out governments perceived of being contaminated by corruption and voted in Oppositions promising to clean up corruption. Indeed, in the last ten years, successive Prime Ministers have had to pledge to curb the corruption [Prime Minister Bruce Golding 2007, Prime Minister Andrew Holness 2011, Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller 2012, Prime Minister Holness 2016 – and the Governor General in 2015].
In the context of these inaugural Prime Ministerial declarations, it is not that nothing has been done over the years. For example, laws have been passed relating to some disclosure of assets and liabilities of public officials as well as regulating the award of public contracts (Parliamentary Integrity of Members Act 1973, Contractor General’s Act 1983, Corruption Prevention Act 2002).
But still the perception and the reality of corruption, and the impunity enjoyed by the corrupt in high places continues. In fact, Jamaica’s new National Security Policy placed before the Parliament by the Prime Minister in April 2014 actually recognises and identifies “corruption of elected and public officials as a number one threat to Jamaica’s National Security” and economic prosperity. The document attempted to measure the extent of the blockage to economic growth attributed to crime and corruption and concludes that the Jamaican economy could have been between three to ten times larger, and by implication the per capita income of our people three to ten times larger than the US$5,000 it currently is, were the high levels of crime and corruption substantially curbed. And this is not just a question of the overall economy; but the extent of corruption, so to speak at the local level, deteriorates the quality of life in communities across the country and undermines confidence in the rule of law at other levels. Take the question of deteriorating roads, in relation to which our people are demonstrating and protesting across rural communities and reflected nightly in our television news.
Then for those who want further evidence, Special Investigation Reports to be found on the website of the Office of the Contractor General of Jamaica provide ample evidence of impropriety and nepotism in the award of contracts. The investigation report into the Hanover Parish Council found that the Mayor was literally giving out contracts to any member of her family that she could find without regard to qualifications, experience or merit. At the other end of the island, the Contractor General’s report into the St. Thomas Parish Council found that acompany certified to collect garbage was awarded a contract to build infrastructure, including a foot bridge and a retaining wall. Do we need to guess or wonder that this kind of corruption would endanger life and limb and property, if and when rain caused the foot bridge or the retaining wall to collapse?
And then most recently, the outrage relating to the Firearm Licensing Authority (FLA). A businessman is charged with murder in 2011. He refuses to hand over his weapon, a licensed firearm. The police request the FLA to revoke the license in 2011, and for five years nothing is done. Then in September 2016 the news comes – the file is lost – the license has yet to be revoked; the gun yet to be found. The businessman is acquitted of murdering a sixteen-year-old student of Kingston College. Yet, our justice system arrests, tries and sends to prison for three months a man, albeit a habitual offender, for stealing forty-five (45) pods of ackee valued at JM$350. With instances such as these we can understand why trust and confidence in our justice system is regrettably on the decline and needs to be built up.
Serious and egregious as these instances are, there can be no question that the major impact of corruption on Jamaica lies in its blockage to economic growth. Please remember that we have something of a world record as the country, which has grown at an annual rate of less than one percent per capita GDP for forty years.
Let me share with you some of the critical elements regarding what is to be done to achieve this imperative:
- 1st: Strengthen Anti-Corruption Legislation. It was in September 2007 that then Prime Minister Golding said “corruption in Jamaica is much too easy, too risk free.” Legislation must impose stiff penalties for violation of Jamaica’s contract procurement rules. At the same time legislation must come into effect to regulate campaign financing and political party funding. This is to reduce the extent to which Jamaica’s one percent, as well as well- connected criminals, particularly those involved in money laundering and organised crime, can exert undue influence and receive protection from politicians and political parties. Please recall that the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, now ratified by Jamaica and other Caribbean territories, requires each state “to enhance transparency in the funding of candidatures for elected public office and …the funding of political parties.”
- 2nd: Establish and enhance institutions for the investigation and prosecution of Corruption. For eight years the Parliament has dilly-dallied over the establishment of a Special Prosecutor for Corruption and currently, is demonstrating little urgency in passing the law to establish the Major Organised Crime Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) as an autonomous body similar to the FBI.
- 3rd: Enforce anti-corruption legislation without fear or favor. Particularly in relation to the offence of illicit enrichment, that is where a public official has assets and a lifestyle out of keeping with their known, legitimate, reasonable sources of income. And what about tax evasion? Jamaica perhaps has yet another unenviable world record. No large tax payer has ever been sent to prison for tax evasion. This despite the fact that in 2012 the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) – representing our business community – proposed to the Parliament that large tax payers who evade taxes should be named, shamed, put on trial and sent to prison, if and when found guilty.
- 4th: Re-socialize the youth. This has to do with strengthening our parenting support institutions and enhancing civics in our school curriculum, as well as the inculcation of positive values and attitudes training in our educational institutions.
- 5th: Re-enforcement of public awareness regarding the cost of corruption and the value of integrity. This requires re-orientation in our media and more systematic attention to promoting integrity in business practices.
- 6th: Build public demand. This requires consistent urging of our people to stand up and to speak out when they see wrongs. There are some good signs in this regard; recently the government was forced to fire the Board of the National Solid Waste Management Agency following public outcry arising from the most recent of annual fires at the Riverton City Dump, polluting the atmosphere of surrounding parishes.
- 7th: Strengthen Citizen Organizations. This means building the capacity in the large number of Youth Clubs across the country as well as Citizens’ Associations and community bodies.
As you can immediately see the agenda regarding what is to be done is formidable. However, for the WHAT to be most meaningful it has to be complemented by the HOW. How are we going to accomplish what is to be done to curb corruption – Jamaica’s imperative?
First and foremost, we had to establish and activate an organization for which curbing corruption and enhancing integrity is the primary purpose. That organization, ladies and gentlemen, is National Integrity Action, which was established almost five years ago in December 2011. During those five years, much has been done to build public awareness, to advocate stronger anti-corruption legislation, more robust law enforcement, as well as enhancement of citizen capacity to achieve Jamaica’s imperative.
Allow me to indicate some of the main areas of endeavor:
- Three full length documentaries have been produced and aired on National television and are available on YouTube. These awareness building tools have literally been viewed by tens of thousands of Jamaicans at home and abroad.
- Ten television ads as well as an Under the Law radio and TV series have also been produced and aired over 800,000 times; perhaps one of these might illustrate the quality of what we have been about.
- We have held town hall meetings attended by hundreds of middle class and working people in almost every single Parish, and have mounted billboards across the country that proclaim the message: Less Corruption = More Investments = More Jobs.
- Keynote presentations have been made to private sector associations, service clubs, student and youth groups and citizens’ organizations across the country.
- Advocacy in relation to legislation, before Parliamentary Committees and outside of Parliament, in the media, has been sustained and contributed significantly to legislation being passed – but not yet operationalized – regarding the registration of political parties and campaign finance reform. NIA has also contributed to the pending unification of anti-corruption institutions into a Single Integrity Commission with a Special Prosecutor for Corruption – now being debated in Parliament.
- NIA has been instrumental in sponsoring anti-corruption and weekend sensitisation seminars for hundreds of justice sector officials, including: Resident Magistrates/Parish Judges, Prosecutors, Investigators and Supreme Court Justices.
- We have sought and received substantial funding from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DIFID), the European Union (EU) and Transparency International brokered Canadian Funding, along with much appreciated but far less funding from domestic corporate donors.
- We have also published three manuals: The Proceeds of Crime Act: Taking the Profit Out of Crime; Strengthening Conflict of Interest Rules; and Prosecuting the Corrupt.
This activity has provided the foundation for some progress. After many years of stagnation, Jamaica improved significantly on the Global Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index published in January 2016. We jumped 16 places, made the best improvement in score in the Western Hemisphere but still remain at 69 of 170 countries. Moreover, and more significantly over 70% of Jamaicans now say they are willing to join an anti-corruption organization, while the global average is a little over 50% in 107 countries. And interestingly, evidence indicates that the man in the street is now paying or taking a bribe far less than before – for a passport, or for a birth certificate; down from 36% to 10% between 2006 and 2014 (LAPOP 2014).
Despite these signs of progress, it is absolutely clear that achieving Jamaica’s Imperative, Curbing Corruption needs NIA, but requires far more than the activities of one advocacy organization, however commendable. In a word ladies and gentlemen, it needs a coming-together, the strengthening of partnerships and the building of a social movement for integrity.
- Going beyond NIA, Jamaica needs networks across the Parliamentary aisle and the political party divide amongst like-minded politicians of integrity to stand up to the resistance of those of their colleagues who are either corrupt or turning a blind eye to corruption. This networking has been one of the reasons why there is now some progress on the legislative front.
- Jamaica needs partnerships among businesses like National Baking Company, which both preaches and practices integrity, and which has been exceptional in its support for NIA; companies who will put integrity at the forefront, as GraceKennedy does; and who will uphold the Code of Conduct of the PSOJ, which condemns bribery while calling for transparency and accountability.
- Networks of public sector officials who are prepared to stand up, without fear or favor, against corruption to facilitate mutual support and reinforcement.
- Non-partisan networks across communities, building integrity champions in youth clubs and in partnerships with the Social Development Commission, reaching out to the over 780 communities in Jamaica.
- Partnerships with the Churches and particularly the denominations and pastors connected to the grassroots and in violence prone communities. In Jamaica’s circumstances, these partnerships with faith based organisations are proving essential, particularly in Parishes like St. Catherine and St. James, and must be strengthened.
- Strengthening relations with our International Development Partners so that they may better ensure that their taxpayers dollars or pounds or euros donated to the Jamaican people, do not end up in the pockets of the corrupt. You should know that one of the most interesting findings of polls commissioned by NIA is that a plurality of our people are saying that International Donors should tie grants and aid to Jamaican authorities’ effectiveness in combatting corruption.
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, more effective curbing of corruption and advancing this Jamaican imperative is going to require broader and deeper engagement with the Jamaican and Caribbean diaspora. There are early positive signs; the talks I have given in Toronto and London, and our NIA associates have done in Miami and elsewhere, reveal definite interest and concern. More recently, security professionals in the Diaspora have come together to form a Diaspora Security Crime Task Force and have made contact with NIA as well as officials in Jamaica concerned with diaspora affairs.
These small beginnings need to be sustained, nurtured and encouraged. However, far more is needed:
- The issue of curbing corruption in Jamaica needs to be put as a main agenda item at the biennial Diaspora Conferences held in Jamaica, as well as of the meeting of the various regional groups.
- Regarding the filling of anti-corruption legislative gaps, our citizens abroad need to strengthen advocacy in their political party groups here in the United States and elsewhere; and to lobby the Parliament to speed up the passage and implementation of critical laws, which are needed to curb corruption.
- Interventions in the national media can be enhanced and have good effect. I am thinking of the 24/7 talk shows that are found in Jamaica, letters to the newspapers and increasingly, importantly engagement on social media in relation to issues such as the recent outrageous conduct exposed in the Firearm License Authority.
- Needless to say funding support is essential to sustainability of the anti- corruption process in Jamaica. Awareness building in the media, including NIA’s planned weekly current-development radio and television programme, as well as student/youth resocialization in the communities and educational institutions are high-cost items. For example: NIA has raised and proposes to pursue the matter on the National Values and Attitudes Committee of establishing Integrity Clubs and Associations alongside the other co- curricular organisations such as Debating Societies and Environmental Clubs across primary, secondary and tertiary institutions.
- I would certainly encourage friends and associates in the diaspora to consider identifying this line item for budget support.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, let us have no doubt whatsoever that the very same capacity, capability and determination that put us at world class levels – in so many areas – in governance, in academia, in entertainment, in business, in sports – that same capacity, capability and determination – at home and in the diaspora, has to be targeted at “Curbing Corruption – Jamaica’s Imperative”.
If you would like to become a member of NIA, you may contact them at 2 Holborn Road, Kingston 10. Tel: (876) 906-4371/9190/9462. Website: http://niajamaica.org On Twitter @niajamaica and on Facebook, Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/nationalintegrityaction/ and YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/TheNiajamaica.
6 thoughts on “Curbing Corruption: Jamaica’s Imperative – Professor Trevor Munroe Speaks at the Schomburg Center”
EXCELLENT blog and speech by the Professor. However not convinced that we tackle the levels of corruption and depth of corruption without long and sustained input from the International Community.
You are absolutely right. In fact National Integrity Action, which Prof Munroe heads, has been funded, right from the start, by USAID. It’s a chapter of Transparency International.
Sending to prison is not the answer, systemic improvements is
Personally I have no problem with prison. Corruption is theft. Thieves go to prison.
In the spirit of promoting your blog and informative posts, I’ve nominated you for the ‘Three Quotes for Three Days’ challenge.
The rules of the challenge are:
1. Three quotes for three days.
2. Three nominees each day (no repetition).
3. Thank the person who nominated you.
4. Inform the nominees.
And it doesn’t have to be three successive days.
Thanks very much! Not sure how this works but it sounds fun. Very kind of you!