Columns

Late integrity report a blot on PM's reputation

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

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The 2018 integrity report on Prime Minister Andrew Holness's assets and liabilities is now published. Given the high-profile position that he occupies in the Government and in the society, it befuddles the mind why this report was late and why the prime minister allowed himself to be engulfed in public controversy over it.

So, the report is out, but the prime minister has caused a wet blanket to be hung over his reputation as one who is a strong fighter against corruption in the country. He talks eloquently about the need to cauterise corruption but, in the perception of those who watch these matters, he behaves as if this does not apply to him. There is not a great deal that he can now do to repair this reputational damage. As he should know, in Jamaica, perception is often more than reality.

Being prime minister is very demanding, but there can be hardly any excuse for the inordinate delay in presenting the report. He, along with other members of Parliament, has until the end of March each year to submit the report to the Integrity Commission. That is a clear three months after the end of the calendar year. If you are mindful of submitting your report, you would keep careful records so that by at least March 15 you could have it before the commission. In this regard, there is really no solid reason for the delay — other than plain negligence or uninformed obduracy not to comply.

We come down hard on the prime minister for he is the first among equals in the Government. He is the prime exemplar who must set the tone for what goes on. He must be seen to be above board if he is to speak with moral authority about any subject — much less one in which he is personally implicated. The people have a right to insist on this and to call him out whenever the situation warrants. We hope, for his sake and that of the Government he leads, he will be more forthright in the future and set the example that is required of his high office.

I wrote in a piece recently that crime and corruption are the twin existential threats to the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) getting a second term. Prime Minister Holness, although he talks a good talk on corruption, has not been stellar in the actual fight against corruption. He has had to fire two ministers of government because of reported malfeasance in their respective ministries and he has been bruised by the late submission of his assets and liabilities to the Integrity Commission.

Jamaica's standing on the global corruption index is not helped by any of these events. In fact, there are indications that our international partners may want to take a second look at the country because of the actual and perceived character of the country as corrupt.

None of this helps the country's growth to prosperity, nor prevents the country's further descent into poverty. The more corrupt a country is the greater the possibilities for the growth of poverty. Corruption siphons off important resources that could be used to improve the lot of the poor, such as spending on road and water infrastructure in rural areas. Corruption enriches the elites in society at the expense of the poor. Those who have deep pockets, and can support political parties with their wealth, do so expecting to be rewarded at the end of the day. Often the reward is in the form of lucrative contracts and other special treatment in trade and commerce which are not open to the ordinary person.

Corruption is one of the reasons for the glaring income and wealth inequality that has been a persistent malady in the country. The wealthy will always have access to the State's resources, either by the goods and services they provide to it or by the privileged benefits they derive as payback for their political support. It goes without saying that if you have some wealth in Jamaica, the more aligned you are to the political directorate the greater your chances of enriching yourself at the expense of the State treasury. And such enrichment is not as subtle as it may appear. Sometimes it is right there in your face, but it is aided and abetted by a corrupt or inept governmental bureaucracy.

It is against the background of this kind of corruption, wealth inequality, and persistent poverty that Holness's late publication of his integrity report is to be judged. If he is not to be an abettor of corruption, he must, without delay, attend to the concerns that the public has about the operations of the Integrity Commission itself. All is not well in that body, and the public is not even sure that it is doing its work because of the “gag” clause that prevents it from talking publicly about its work. We need to know what is being done to the hundreds of cases which former Contractor General Dirk Harrison alleges are languishing.

The commission clearly lacks the resources — human and financial — to do a robust and efficient job on behalf of the people. While acknowledging this, it would not be even prudent to throw more resources at it until the internal problems that plague it are addressed. There is a great deal of work to be done. The prime minister must lead the way.

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


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