Why Corruption Is a Women’s Issue: An Article by Joan Grant Cummings

A single anti-corruption body. What a marvellous concept; an idea whose time has come. It’s actually long overdue. While many government ministers have been busy with the Jamaica 55 Diaspora Conference – downtown Kingston was abuzz with activity this week – the long-awaited Integrity Commission Bill landed back with a thump in the Lower House of Parliament. Not very elegantly, I might add. It was passed by the Senate (I am surprised at Senator Kamina Johnson Smith’s defence of the legislation as is) but due to pressure, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck now says the Lower House will look at making some “slight changes” to the Bill. “We probably will make it a little narrower than it presently is, so it may restrict government contracts to national security and international relations and in the public interest. Those are the contracts which I think that the Cabinet should have that authority to say ‘It is in the public’s best interest that they should not be investigated.'” [Who decides what is in the public’s best interest, how and why? Nuh the public? And how did international relations creep into the discussion?]

Here is a perspective from gender consultant and activist Joan Grant Cummings. It’s food for thought.

Why Corruption Is a Women’s Issue

Currently, the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) is trying to push through the ‘The Integrity Commission Bill.’  As usual ‘our’ Bills from their very title are only understood by a sliver of the population. Given the way we carry on about ’Corruption’ practically covering the land, you would think first of all that the people’s representatives, who ‘serve’ at the people’s pleasure would make sure, we The People understand that this is the ‘Stamp out Corruption Law.’ 

Over the past year or so a lot of stones, nay rocks, have been thrown at “civil society activists”!  The integrity of many social justice or human rights defenders, not to mention, “de feminist dem” who have been berated, accused, chided, for being quiet in the face of questionable government decision-making processes and actions.  This week a very efficient, focused and we expect effective campaign is being waged by different civil society actors, with regard to the “Anti-Corruption Bill.”

So quite a few expressions of surprise were posted in different social media spaces about the awakening; some didn’t understand it, others commented that “a bourgeois ting dat.  Dat nah serve poor people cause dem already used to corruption!”

But what is corruption and why should civil society care? Who most benefits from corruption and who loses the most?

Victim of corruption: A woman grieves over the body of a factory worker killed in a building collapse at Rana Plaza, Bangladesh. (Photo: K M Asad).

This struggle by various civil society actors, hinges on a critical element in building integrity in the processes and systems by which our institutions are run – transparency or a lack of secrecy.  A part or clause, in the Bill, 50 (2) C, essentially calls for secrecy or a lack of transparency – this undermines or cuts out the very heart of what an Anti-Corruption or Pro-Integrity law is based on.   It essentially says that Cabinet alone has the power to decide if  and  when ‘The Director of Investigations’ – the person who  will act on our behalf, like the Contractor General, should have any information about contracts and materials pertaining to security and for defence.

Now if the GOJ wants to bring in some ‘state of the art’ crime fighting material is one thing. However, what it is, how it will affect us all, including criminals, who we are buying it from, quantities to be purchased, the budget,’ side deals’ e.g. we’ll give you 10 new  vehicles if you throw in “Cockpit Country”? Deals that have happened in many countries, so very possible here.  Malfunctioning equipment has been sold to countries, with ‘no refund,’ and so on.  Who speaks on our behalf in this instance? Who does the ‘checks and balances’ on our behalf? It has to be an independent, autonomous people’s representative. Corruption is directly linked to having weak, vulnerable institutions and governance structures – not run by concrete and steel, but by people. It is people who are vulnerable to corruption.

When we talk about corruption, many of us talk about something that used to work or function – something that has now gone bad, like rotten food, and from bad to worse: “one time dem used to good service, me nuh truss dem no more – too corrupt!”  This could cover from a woman/man to supermarket, bank, government or church – all politicians, all church ministers, and even whole segments of populations!

Consequences of Corruption

Educators on corruption, such as Transparency International (TI) advocate the use of a general definition: The abuse or misuse of power or trust for personal benefit or private gain.”  T. I. – a global membership organization that educates, monitors and ranks countries on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) – makes the point that transparency at all levels is critical and a prerequisite if our institutions are ever going to be seen or trusted as spaces of integrity. This takes the form usually of: undue influence; bribery; nepotism (not only family); theft; embezzlement; extortion.  Already it is estimated that at least 20-25% of public contracts globally are lost to corruption.  Usually benefactors are: public officials, public sector workers, politicians, and businesses.

In its 2014 report on defence spending, T.I. reported the following:

Defence and security institutions consume a huge proportion of public spending. In 2014 global defence spending reached US$1.776bn… 2.3% of global GDP. The vast amounts of money…with highly secretive (often unjustified) and centralised decision making, expose this sector to significant corruption risks…the financial cost of corruption in the defence sector is, minimum, $20bn a year. The theft of national budgets…. impacts opportunities to invest in health, education and infrastructure.”

Who Suffers the Most?

The UN Convention Against Corruption was adopted in 2003 with Jamaica’s ratification in 2008.  Kofi Annan in the foreword states:

Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies. It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.

Further, both the United Nations (UN) and Transparency International (TI) agree that it is the most vulnerable in our societies who suffer when a government neglects to safeguard or wilfully protect its people from corruption or the possibility of corruption.  The poor, people with disabilities, people under-represented in governments, and in public and private spheres of decision-making are most vulnerable.

Women at a National Integrity Action training session in May, 2015. (My photo)

The vast majority – 70 per cent – of whom are women!  In all societies corruption is found. This is the gendered dimension of corruption. More and more research is uncovering this differential impact negatively, on women.  Women are the society designated primary care-givers.  They are responsible not only for their health but that of the children, elderly, sick, people with disabilities and the homeless in their homes and communities.  They primarily access public services as they have access to less resources than their male counterparts.  The gender wage gap, lack of child care and elder care benefits, lack of social services such as anti-violence support services, reproductive health services, land access, agricultural subsidies, less access to affordable loans are all tributaries from this great bleeding stream called corruption.

Unfortunately, security and defence are areas with the highest frequencies and most cost to development caused by corruption. In fact, in most incidents of corruption, it is with regard to the security forces (the police).  Who will be the independent verifier of number of guns bought so we will know if any have been lost to theft, sold on the black market, used in committing of crimes?  A regular practice in both developed and developing countries?

The National Integrity Action (NIA) Jamaica’s member in Transparency International has been mounting education and awareness forums across the country in partnership with many community organizations and communities.  Contrary to the erroneous pronouncements by some Jamaicans, people living in poverty or low- income communities do not see or accept poverty as a way of life. This is especially so for women and girls in low income households and communities.  In fact, their economic, social and political status (lack of access to, or involvement in power or decision-making bodies) makes them more vulnerable than men and boys to sex extortion or “sextortion.” Globally this is an ever growing phenomenon especially in countries where the gender gap in equality is wide, e.g. Jamaica. This increases the forms and incidences of sexual violence against women and girls.

Governments that claim to be devoted to gender equality, and gender based violence should be supportive of transparency in all spheres of decision-making, budgeting, policy-making etc.  Currently, we essentially have a gender-un-aware or ‘gender-dunce’ budget –  there is no gender analysis attached to it.

Let us not compound things by making such a wrong move that demonstrates a lack of perception in our continuing to build strong institutions and systems based on transparent, inclusive principles – versus the perception that we are hiding something.

Without clear national strategies and fair and open processes with accountable, effective and independent oversight mechanisms, we are guaranteed deeper underdevelopment and the widening of our gender equality and equity.   Women and girls should not be made to continue to pay the price of corruption.  Delete Clause 50 (2) C of the Integrity Commission Bill.

A young National Integrity Action member speaks up at a training session. (My photo)

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