There was another “heavy” topic that preoccupied us last year, which I barely addressed – again because of the holidays and my New Year of the Broken Wrist. This one is probably the most important of all. Yes, it’s corruption. It’s the elephant in the room that never moves away (although sometimes we think it might have retreated, or grown a little smaller) – but no – it’s actually still there! Big and bold.
I have written on this topic several times before, trying to figure it out. I write a blog post roughly once per week on the Jamaica Gleaner blog page, and I have written about corruption every year. I wrote about the strong connections between state-owned oil companies and corruption in many countries and I mentioned the Petrojam scandal. That was in June/July. I am not sure we are much further on in disentangling the web of corrupt, unethical, possibly illegal activities that have been going on for quite some time within and around that government entity. It seems there are layers to be unpeeled. There may be more layers. It’s a nightmare for the Holness administration, which (like every other administration in the past) had promised to tackle corruption. In the midst of all of this, December 7 (Anti-Corruption Day) passed last year with barely anyone noticing. We were doing our Christmas shopping.
I am a member of National Integrity Action (NIA), the non-profit organization that aims to educate people on the complex nature of corruption and how it infiltrates into every corner of our society. Because it does. It’s endemic. NIA works with young people (it has a vibrant youth arm) and conducts a lot of outreach into communities. A fundamental goal is to help build a culture of integrity in Jamaica. This means building leadership and encouraging Jamaicans to “do the right thing.”
What is corruption? There’s a really good explanation here. We talk, talk, talk about it. Our political leaders pledge to tackle it. And yet, it continues – not only high profile scandals such as Petrojam that we can all go “tut, tut” about (yes, we love moralizing!) but also the small, petty corruption that is so much a part of our lives that we don’t even recognize it as such. Many of us point fingers at public figures, while engaged in “smaller” acts of corruption ourselves. But every little bit adds up!
Well, today the annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) was released by Transparency International (of which NIA is a local chapter). It does not make for cheerful reading. Jamaica is in 70th place, with a score of 44 out of 100 – unchanged from last year. Several Caribbean countries are ahead of us in the CPI rankings, with Barbados and the Bahamas (both in the top 30 countries globally), St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, Saint Lucia and Grenada all coming out above 50 points.
So, as Executive Director of NIA Professor Trevor Munroe noted today at the launch of the CPI, Jamaica has made little or no progress in the past year. TI itself makes the link between corruption and democracy, calling the overall results “troubling”…
This year’s index shows that the majority of countries are making little or no progress in ending corruption. Even worse, it reveals that the continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to a crisis in democracy around the world.
This year, more than two-thirds of countries score below 50, with a global average score of just 43.
With many democratic institutions and norms currently under threat – often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies – we analysed the relationship between corruption and global democracy trends.
We found that public sector corruption can contribute to a backsliding of democratic institutions and values.
If you want to delve more deeply, you can find much more at the TI website, including data sets, methodologies etc. There’s also a useful global analysis here.
Please see below Professor Munroe’s remarks at today’s event. Can we do better? We can, and we MUST. Are you listening, Prime Minister Holness? Can we have a sense of urgency, please? Or are our leaders comfortable with the ever-declining levels of trust in our society, not to mention our excessive levels of crime? There’s a link, you know.
Almost one year ago, on the occasion of the launch of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2017, I stated in my opening remarks, “NIA welcomes Jamaica’s improvement in score (from 39 to 44 on a scale of 0 to 100), and the jump upwards by 15 places (from 83 of 176 countries in 2016 to 68 of 180 countries in 2017),” Jamaica’s best-ever improvement in score and rank on the CPI. Today, unfortunately, our performance does not allow us to welcome good news. Indeed, our performance instead recalls the caution made then, on that occasion, “Even with this significant advance, however, there is absolutely no time for self-congratulation nor complacency. Jamaica still remains among the ranks of the corrupt two-thirds of the world’s countries whose scores are under the halfway mark of 50” and I continued then “we can slip back in much the same way as we saw the advance of 2015 receding in 2016.”
To prevent any slippage, we urged “all hands on deck to prevent regression, to build on this advance and to develop momentum in the… strengthening of integrity.” To achieve this objective we called on the Government then to “establish and bring into early operation, the anti-corruption institutions designed to go after the corrupt facilitators of organised crime; in particular, the operationalisation of the Integrity Commission and the passage into law of the bill to give autonomy to the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA). Additionally, to ensure that they are… provided with adequate resources.” Regrettably, nearly one year after, the Integrity Commission is not fully operational and the regulations needed for the MOCA to come into effect are yet to be laid in Parliament. Similarly, the Procurement Act (passed by both Houses of Parliament in 2015) creating a criminal offence with attached fines or imprisonment for breaches of the procurement guidelines, over three years subsequently is yet to come into operation, because the regulations have not yet been finalised – though the promise was made that they would pass the House, following the Senate, by the end of 2018.
Regrettably, instead of these urgent anti-corruption measures, 2018 brought a number of negative developments.
- Petrojam. Public concerns led to hearings before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee, and, subsequently, to the Auditor General Department’s Review of Aspects of the PCJ and a Comprehensive Audit of Petrojam. The latter confirmed “explicit acts of nepotism,” unaccountable oil losses valuing J$5.2 Billion Dollars over five years, breaches of procurement law and guidelines, practices in violation of the company’s recruitment and sponsorship policies, lack of transparency in donation policy, practices costing the public purse hundreds of millions of dollars and “weaknesses and deficiencies, which if left unresolved, will increase the risk of corrupt acts.” Despite these revelations and many resignations, no official associated with the breaches costing the public hundreds of millions of dollars at Petrojam has been charged or brought before the courts.
- Auditor General Department’s Special Investigation into the National Insurance Fund/Ministry of Labour and Social Security (March 2018). This found a conflict of interest, the absence of due diligence and lack of transparency and accountability in significant share acquisitions involving hundreds of millions of dollars of public funds.
- Unexplained delay by the Office of the Prime Minister in tabling Parliamentary reports relating to statutory declarations of assets, incomes and liabilities of Parliamentarians. Moreover, during the year, there was no evidence of action taken regarding Parliamentarians previously reported by the Parliamentary Integrity Commission for alleged violations of the Parliament Integrity of Members Act, including alleged acts of corruption. In 2014, there were five (5) such Parliamentarians; four (4) in 2015 and fourteen (14) in 2016 (as published in Jamaica’s Final Report, adopted at the March 15, 2018 plenary sessions of the OAS Mechanism for the Follow-up on the Implementation of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, Pg. 45).
- No or slow prosecutions for illicit enrichment. The data indicate that in 2018, five (5) cases were filed in the courts of thirteen matters filed since 2016, with three (3) convictions between 2016 and 2018.
- Finally, the Auditor General Department’s Annual Report for 2018, tabled earlier this month, revealed breaches of procurement guidelines as “a common weakness.”
Some positive factors put a brake on these negative developments. Many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA’s) collaborated with NIA, utilising support from the USAID, in seeking to strengthen the anti-corruption capacity of public entities and officials of integrity; amongst them, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, with the Parish Courts, with the Department of Correctional Services and the Jamaica Constabulary Force with whom we planned and executed ten (10) different weekend training seminars. Moreover, the Office of the Chief Justice and the Court Management Services collaborated with us to engage Franklin Covey Management Services Company to provide leadership training for court staff. We worked with the Ministry of Youth Education and Information to advance and consolidate Integrity Clubs in a number of schools and an Integrity Action Movement (Club) was founded at UTECH. The Office of the Governor General, and a number of private sector and civil society bodies, including NIA, partnered in another of the very successful I Believe Initiative, Youth Consultative Conference for Leaders among the youth. We also worked with MOCA in training programmes to develop the skill and competence level of their staff.
Outside of the MDA’s, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), the Jamaica Manufacturing and Exporters’ Association (JMEA), the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, the Jamaica Umbrella Group of Churches, among others, raised their voices against corruption, called for a strengthening of integrity and put forward proposals to enhance good governance, publicly and in meetings with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
NIA also worked with the Council for Voluntary Social Services (CVSS) to train over 430 Key Actors and Community Leaders as Integrity Champions throughout the year; with the Women’s Research and Outreach Centre (WROC) in leadership and advocacy training for inner-city women; with Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica (YCWJ) in their Change Thru Arts programme, which saw the launch of their I am Integrity Album and in their parenting workshops in inner-city and out-of-town schools as well as in their behavioural modification programmes through sporting activity. NIA also supported the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI) in publishing reports dealing with “Fixing Jamaica’s Environmental Regulatory Framework,” the search for the Most Efficient Tax for Jamaica and the Importance of Open Government Data. Of course, NIA maintained its public awareness building with its commercial ads, including “Do the Right Thing” and “Lock Dem Up”. These efforts, however, fell short of what was required to maintain the rate of advance recorded in CPI 2017.
On the contrary, both the opinion of the public – as reflected in recent surveys, and that of experts – reflected in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2018, at best regarded Jamaica as standing still and beginning to slip backwards, relative to other countries. As such, the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, confirmed Jamaica’s score as remaining at 44, the same as 2017 and at the same time, slippage backwards from number 68 in 2017 to number 70 of 180 countries in 2018.
To regain forward movement in our score and to restore improvement in our ranking, we in NIA, the private sector, the churches and citizens from all walks of life need to redouble our efforts in developing new partnerships of integrity and coalitions against corruption, to ensure:
- Prompt, full, and effective operationalisation of the Integrity Commission, including urgent consideration of amendments to the Integrity Commission Act, to allow for some transparency in the investigative work, thereby facilitating public engagement at the same time as protecting against reputational damage.
- The immediate completion of regulations for the Procurement Act, so that those found guilty of the widespread breaches of procurement may be fined, sent to prison or surcharged to the extent of losses to the public purse.
- Amendment to the Protected Disclosures Act, as recommended in the March 2018 report to the OAS, “to allow for additional protective measures to be put in place if it is deemed that there is a real or potential danger to… the physical… integrity of an employee and his/her family, especially when the person is a public official and the acts of corruption involve his superior or co-workers” (page 42).
- Comprehensive collaboration between the Ministry of Justice, its Department and Agencies, along with NIA and other civil society groups, to accelerate justice reform, particularly in relation to Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) measures, enhanced efficiency of the courts and more effective prosecution of the serious corruption offence of “illicit enrichment”.
- Comprehensive collaboration between the Ministry of National Security, particularly the Community Safety and Security Branch (CSSB) of the JCF and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information with NIA, the church, the private sector and other civil society groups to enhance positive values and behaviours among young people in schools and communities, thereby reducing their likelihood of recruitment into organised gangs and corrupt practices.
- The immediate tabling in Parliament by the Office of the Prime Minister of the Annual Reports under the Parliament Integrity of Members Act, so that Parliamentarians, the Public, the Media and all stakeholders may be aware of the extent of compliance by Parliamentarians with this important anti-corruption tool.
May I conclude by underlining the urgency of tackling corruption effectively and arresting the decline in public confidence in our democratic arrangements with two references: (1) Prime Minister Holness in his 2017/2018 Budget presentation asked Jamaicans to recognise “the link between corruption and crime. The corruption that allows illegal guns and ammunition to come through our ports… that allows stolen vehicles to be registered and resold… the link between corruption and low-growth, the corruption that virtually slows up and even denies the grant of a permit in order to secure payment…” All of these the Prime Minister said must be stopped; which leads to my second reference. (2) The stoppage of this corruption is also vital to the Jamaican people believing that our democratic institutions can do the job.
As it stands, the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) 2017 report published in April 2018 found that a majority of Jamaicans would support a military takeover to deal with the high rate of crime and corruption. Since jumping from the frying pan into the fire is not the solution, all hands must now come on deck to halt the slide and to build the capacity of our democracy to cope and to restore declining confidence in our Parliament, in our Justice System and other institutions to manage the twin crises of corruption and crime.
The Auditor General’s Department uploads its reports online, including on LinkedIn and Twitter. Do take a look at the Auditor General’s website here.