Columns

Crime and corruption the twin threats to a JLP second term

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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The painstaking sacrifices of the Jamaican people have enabled their governors to rebuild an economy of which they can be duly proud. Once a basket case in the Caribbean and the world, Jamaica is now being touted as a poster child for economic recovery. Economic growth still remains anemic, but all the important macroeconomic indices are pointing to an economy that is poised for robust growth.

But there are two persistent maladies which will make it impossible for the country to reap the prosperity that the prime minister and his ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) hope for. These are corruption and crime; and the two are intertwined.

It is estimated that corruption is taking close to $200 billion out of the economy, and that violent crimes are taking another five per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). If these statistics are correct, it does not take a genius to know the danger that these twin evils pose to economic growth. And it is not only economic growth that is affected, but these evils cause deep social and psychological scars on the psyche of a people. It is difficult to ever assess the damage that has been done to families that have lost loved ones over the last two decades to violent criminality.

Our ruling elites from the two major political parties must understand that Jamaicans are not fooled by their posturing and remonstrations against crime and corruption. The political scales of partisan tribalism are fast falling from their eyes and they are beginning to see more clearly what the two major political parties that have ruled since Independence are about. We know that the twin evils of corruption and violent criminality have been essential aspects of their political DNA and that they have been at the centre of the fight for political power as successive governments have used the resources of the country to perpetuate themselves in power. This was the import of the admission of former Prime Minister P J Patterson when he said that our politics is characterised by the fight for scarce benefits and spoils by competing political tribes, or as the Gleaner editorial characterised them as the gangs of Gordon House.

So neither party comes to the table with clean hands and a pure heart. So as not to take the people for fools, both parties should clothe themselves in sackcloth and ashes in repentance for what their respective tribe has done to this country. When the People's National Party demonstrators last week preened their self-righteous feathers in denouncing the JLP for their corruption in office, it was offensive to the ears as they seemed to have forgotten their own behaviour in Government and the present problems in which their party is engulfed such as the shenanigans at the Manchester municipality. It is not that anyone is saying that they as Opposition do not have a right to demonstrate and to call the JLP out. We expect them to, but to merely indulge self-righteousness as if to suggest that they would do better in office belies a lie that people will not be fooled about. We have seen them in action, especially in the long stretch they were in power for over 18 years.

There is a disclaimer in the investing world that past performance is not an indicator of future performance. This may be important for investment, but it surely is not for political governance. We judge governments by their past performance as politicians seem to have an affinity for old and well-trodden paths. This is especially true when we consider the insidious nature of corruption. Corruption takes place at every level of political life and is not always easy to detect. It comes in all forms and guises, which are not always visible and could take years to find out. Kickbacks on contracts are not as easy to detect as blatantly stealing farm workers' money or pilfering the coffers of a parish municipality.

Corrupt behaviour in office is always immoral, but not necessarily illegal. This is why in the matter of former Minister of Education Senator Ruel Reid the prosecutors and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions are being very careful in gathering the evidence to make a strong case for either criminal prosecution or dismissal, if anything at all. Because a corrupt action might not be illegal, does not mean it cannot come at tremendous cost to people. A minister appointing a political surrogate to a cushy job while others more qualified and competent are ignored might not be engaging an illegal activity, but such an appointment can become a big drag on the people's purse. This is so as you are giving an incompetent person a preference in a job in which serious mistakes will be made to the detriment of good governance.

Let us not fool ourselves that some corruption will not take place in any Government. We do not elect saints to office. Some good people go in and are corrupted by the culture they find there. The late Winston Jones, after whom the Winston Jones Highway in Mandeville is named, is perhaps one of the few political 'saints' to have left office without the stench of corruption clinging to him. He, along with a few others, understood that the word minister meant one who served, and not one who expected to be served by the people's resources. They enriched the people by their service and, in turn, did not enrich themselves at the people's expense.

It is hard to think that we will ever return to those days, but we must nonetheless put in place independent mechanisms that can restrain, arrest and punish the greedy to whom we give power over our lives. We do not have a robust system of accountability and punishment. For too long we have allowed the fox to guard the henhouse. Take the Integrity Commission, for example. It was created by law to be the anti-corruption omnibus agency to deal with corruption in the public sector. But it does not seem to understand its raison d'etre. It is plagued with internal wrangling among the commissioners. Egocentric disposition seems to be of greater moment among them than a real will to do the work they have been assigned.

But their hands are tied, too, because by law they cannot even talk about any matter they are investigating. Bleating about this matter from the general public has been met with deafness by the ruling Administration. Governments have not treated corruption with any urgency, because if they did they would create a truly independent commission, not appointed by politicians, and one which has strong guarantees of constitutional authority to work without looking over its back.

Again, I reiterate that Prime Minister Holness is the man on the bridge at this moment. Jamaicans have been known to sweep governments from power who seem to be very corrupt and are doing nothing about corruption. They do so even though they know that the ones that will replace them are no less corrupt. But they do so with the hope that things will change for the better. Their votes cannot be taken for granted. If the prime minister hopes for a second term for his party he must move with dispatch to demonstrate that he has a comprehensive and workable crime plan that will cauterise the rampant murderous criminality in the country. He must engage the population in robust dialogue about the issue and enlist their cooperation in the fight. A few eclectic measures will not work; spasmodic reactions to violent crimes by the use of states of emergency will not be sufficient.

While he is at this, he must address more robustly the issue of corruption. The nexus between crime and corruption must be recognised. These are first cousins which refuse to be decoupled. There must be an end to the rhetoric and finger-pointing among our politicians; for none of them is without sin. Macro-economic stability, which itself is hobbled by crime and corruption, will not be sufficient to guarantee the JLP a second term. To think this is to take the people's vote for granted.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com .


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