Sat | Aug 17, 2019

Peter Espeut | Breaking the corruption cycle

Published:Friday | July 19, 2019 | 12:23 AM

During the 26-plus years I have been writing this column, the level of government corruption in Jamaica has been a constant public concern, no matter which party has been in power.

When some particularly egregious instance (e.g., Outameni, Dudus extradition, Trafigura, Petrojam, Shell waiver, pre-election bushing, Hanover Parish Council) is front and centre in the public eye, the approach of each party is identical: hunker down, declare that the other side’s corruption scandals were bigger, and wait for the nine-day-talk-nine-day-wonder syndrome to trip in.

One or two people may resign (often later to return), but no one is ever prosecuted; and none of the money is ever returned or repaid. Then, there is a return to business as usual, with no particular corruption-prevention or corruption-detection provisions put in place.

Even in opposition, neither of the major political parties will promise that, if and when they come to power, they will enact legislation for full public declaration of the source and amount of political contributions (which could detect influence-peddling, kickbacks, or waivers and contracts in return).

Neither do they promise that if elected, they will enact legislation to require full public disclosure of the assets and income of public servants (which could detect illicit enrichment). Both parties are happy with the present opaqueness of political donations made in secret (possibly by questionable characters and foreign governments and entities), and asset declarations made to secret committees bound to secrecy. Each party in opposition is a government-in-waiting, expecting its turn at the feeding trough, and does not wish to foreclose on its quantum of future pork.

The Jamaican public is tired of political corruption, and more than half the potential electorate has withdrawn from the electoral process. The number of “die-hearted” party faithful continues to decline, as more and more people develop sensitive conscience and decline to associate with both parties which are tainted by corrupt associations with garrison communities and political thugs.

Corrupt ethos

Instead of the younger politicians introducing a newer, cleaner ethic to the political praxis, they quickly adopt the corrupt ethos of their elders (which is probably what attracted them into politics in the first place). How can Jamaica break out of this corruption cycle?

There is no incentive for the Jamaica Labour Party (to end corruption any time soon, as their members currently benefit from it; Andrew Holness would likely face an internal rebellion if he tried to drag the noses of his party members out of the feeding trough. They will claim that he has let them down! It is good political form to promise transparency and accountability in one’s inauguration speech, but bad political form to actually do it!

The present internal leadership struggle within the People’s National Party (PNP) provides an opportunity for the contenders to try to outdo each other in promising to bring corruption to an end. Peter Phillips has promised to release his (otherwise secret) declaration of assets and income, but he has not declared that as prime minister, he will require all public servants to do so.

Peter Bunting has declared that from his own resources he can write a cheque to cover the cost of his campaign, and so he is not beholden to special-interest groups, nor does he owe anyone any political favours. But he has not declared that as prime minister, he will introduce legislation to make all political donations public, naming the donors and amounts.

I believe that it is incumbent upon anti-corruption advocates and the media to challenge both PNP presidential contenders to declare what they will do to minimise political corruption in Jamaica should they be victorious. Of course, since only accredited PNP delegates (who stand to benefit from the distribution of scarce benefits and spoils) can vote, any candidate who promises to bring pork to an end may lose the contest!

Jamaica’s corner is dark indeed!

Peter Espeut is a sociologist and is dean of studies at St Michael’s Theological College. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.