Wed | Jun 19, 2024

Mark Wignall | When corruption persists

Published:Sunday | April 7, 2024 | 12:08 AM

One of the main ideas behind the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) administration’s decision to award the political class whopping salary increases, seemingly in the dead of night while the people were sleeping, was its possibility to be a buffer to corruption.

In other words it was not a certainty that a politician earning $20 million per year would show his ‘teefing’ hand any less than when he earned $9 million. But, one harboured the hope that it could. Plus, if the accountability team were serious and not fully into playing political games, the increased salary could drive more painful sanctions for corruption breaches.

Sensible people knew better. A culture of corruption in politics is driven by something primal in man. One, I must amass more than enough for me and my family. Two, if I don’t grab at this opportunity, someone else will. Overall, it is the generational culture of corruption and no real shame attached to the actions in the community space that keeps it alive, and not a quantum jump in salary. If anything, with more pay, so will the corruption plate be more occupied and demanding.

For many years, the parish councils provided a natural apprenticeship for members of parliament (MPs). But it also came with terrible negatives. I have known of councillors deliberately breaking up contracts so that their friends and associates can get them. If some of those ‘small bosses’ could barely read and write, all the better.

After the work is measured and payment approved, the councillor and the small boss goes to the bank. Small boss collects, hands it over to the low level politician, the politician gives him barely enough to pay the labourers, and the politician comes back to the bank the next day to discuss the purchase of another car.

OPEN SECRET

In the main municipalities, the other lucrative bit of corruption is in building approvals. That is the biggest open secret in government corruption, and it attracts big money. Most developers, large and mid-level, are impatient people. If one man needs various approvals on a $400-million plan and a councillor on a panel has not heard anything extra from the developer, a bit of gamesmanship begins.

The councillor says nothing because he expects the word to come in. It could be really big, like an apartment in exchange for quick approval. If no agreement is arrived at, the next chapter begins. Sit on the approval. The approval price just went up.

The councillor operates on the basis that, if he doesn’t cut a deal, someone else will do it. If the developer knows the MP, then the corruption-sharing train will have to roll into the yard.

Overall, the politicians at the MP level are quite aware of the behaviour and, if the councillor makes the transition to MP, he will be welcomed heartily to the fold and glowing words will be spoken of him.

WHO BENEFITS? PNP OR JLP?

The social media space is currently littered with a race in the corruption train. Hit and run, hit and miss, and plain political scandalising are the subjects. One deep investigative dive into a certain matter is troubling. People’s National Party (PNP) connections are hurling brickbats at the JLP administration while some JLP bloggers are enjoying themselves hauling the PNP’s sordid past all over the social media sites.

As it is now, it is difficult to separate the sordid from anything remotely close to the truth. It is obvious that, if the focus can be aimed at the JLP between now and the beginning of the general election campaign, it is my belief that it will do more harm to the JLP. After all, it is the party in power and it controls the public purse.

At this stage, it is difficult to determine if the JLP’s impressive fiscal policy, derived from IMF invigilation and PNP baton-passing, can rise above the electorate going sour on the JLP, as evidenced by the results of the recent local government elections.

The PNP knows that it has just one shot left to take on the JLP. It would be quite foolish to believe that it has mortally wounded the JLP to the extent that Holness and his team will be wearing crutches to the next general election.

More than a few in the JLP have been admitting that Holness’s armour has weaknesses in it. The worst that the JLP can do now is drive themselves into only winnable pockets where each MP shares little resources of experience and strategy with others who may need the help.

Some of that was in operation in the recent local government elections, where experienced politicians still believed that Holness was at peak electoral fitness when it was obvious that his stinger had gone dull.

CAN VYBZ KARTEL WIN AN ELECTION FOR THE PNP?

The western border of Waterford (Gaza country) is the eastern border of Gregory Park. By the green flags in Gregory Park, it is safe to say that the JLP has more popularity there and, of course, the Waterford area has been faithful to the PNP for many years now.

Kartel is not well loved in Gregory Park. But that may not be so in many other JLP areas where people under 40 speak of Kartel as if he occupies special divinity in their lives. To that cohort, any retrial and release of Kartel may be seen as a freeing up their own spirits and their ability to be great disruptors of the system.

If that happens and Kartel is willing to be used by the PNP to go on political platforms with the party, it could signal the further demise of the JLP. The strategists in the JLP need to bear that in mind.

With consistently low pay of workers by many in the private sector, and with the JLP seen as more allied to the big PSOJ players, there is a batch of younger voters that is waiting on the right moment to jump ship on the JLP.

Mark Wignall is a political and public affairs analyst. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com