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Controlling Corruption, Transforming Governance: Where Are We? Where From Here?

National Integrity Action Limited  / MOJ 1st Annual Prosectutors’ Anti-Corruption Training Seminar – February 10, 2012
Professor Trevor Munroe

Let us begin with an understanding of what corruption is in a generic governance related sense. It is the use, more accurately, the misuse of entrusted position – whether ministerial position, civil service position, CEO position, president of a sports association position, police position, any position – for illicit gain or advantage whether for oneself personally, one’s family, organization, etc.

What does corruption do? The United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) (which Jamaica has ratified and to which we are a party) draws on global experience to tell us what our own Jamaican experience is confirming. The UNCAC states that corruption:

  • undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights
  • distorts markets, erodes the quality of life and allows organised crime, terrorism and other threats to human society to flourish
  • corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining the Government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign aid and investment

Taking all this into account, UNCAC concludes quite rightly “corruption is a key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.”

If we reflect for a moment, we can see each and every one of these consequences of corruption impacting Jamaica. Hence, Controlling corruption and Transforming governance is a fundamental condition for example, for creating the jobs and generating employment so sorely needed, jobs and employment which can only be sustained by investment, and investment itself shall only be sustained if investors know that corruption is controlled and doesn’t constitute an additional tax on their investment. However, controlling corruption and transforming governance is not only critical for development in the present and for the future, it is critical to maintaining the gains of the past. All these gains by Jamaica and Jamaicans, the achievements of the past have been real and substantial. We Jamaicans were the first people of predominantly African descent to attain Universal Adult Suffrage, an important milestone of political development.

For over 65 years, in response to the people’s vote, the party in government has handed over power to the party in opposition 7 times, in 15 contested elections without:

  • Assassination of top civil society and political leaders – USA, India
  • One party rule – Singapore, Tanzania
  • Civil war – Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Ivory Coast
  • Military Coup – Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan
  • Fascist dictatorship – Germany, Spain, Italy
  • Freedom of the Press – top 10-15% globally
  • Freedom of Association – trade union rights
  • Relatively independent judiciary
  • 1955-1965 – in top 10 globally in terms of economic growth and human development

Within recent times, these real achievements of the past are being whittled away, not least of all by inadequate control and corruption. Our achievements are being compromised by:

  • High inequality
  • Lowest 10% – 2% income/consumption
  • Top 10% – 36% income/consumption
  • Stagnant (or low) economic growth
  • High personal insecurity – among top 3 countries globally in terms of the rate of homicides
  • Poorly trained, poorly educated labour force, declining labour productivity – 1.3% annually between 1972 and 2007
  • Global rank in terms of Human Development – 80 of 169 countries (2010)
  • Limited democratic rights/freedom in 1/3 constituencies (garrisons)

Against this backdrop of past achievements and recent underperformance, our people’s perceptions have become insightful, demand our urgent attention and are most relevant to our concerns. A 2010 Don Anderson Poll found that Jamaicans for the first time perceived corruption as “that thing that was most wrong with Jamaica”. In the same vein, the 2010 Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) found that Jamaicans’ perception of the level of corruption in our country was second only to that of Trinidad and Tobago of 26 countries surveyed in the hemisphere. A UWI Centre for Leadership and Governance survey found that 85% of Jamaicans believed that some politicians were connected to criminal activity. This has meant a dangerous decline in trust and confidence in public institutions. Parliamentarians and Parliament rank only slightly above the police as the least trusted of public institutions. Most serious of all, the decline in confidence in established and critical democratic institutions is undermining support for democracy itself. In this context, it is no accident that the percentage of the registered electorate who voted on December 29, 2011 was the lowest in Jamaica’s modern political history and that for the first time ever their tolerance of a government ran out after only four years. International ratings and rankings of corruption, notably Transparency International (in 2011, Jamaica ranked 86 out of 183 countries and rated 3.3 out of 10) and the World Bank Institute concur with the perception of us Jamaicans that corruption is far too high and must be controlled if Jamaica and Jamaicans are to get the investment to create the needed jobs to get better roads, bridges and infrastructure, to achieve the quality of life of which this country is undoubtedly capable.

One paradox is that while the people’s perception of corruption remains high, their actual engagement in what some call petty bribery appears to be on the decline. In 2006, the LAPOP Corruption Victimization Survey found that Jamaicans engagement in everyday type of bribery was above the global average. The same instrument found in 2010 that this had declined to 8% of the population, well below the global average of 25%. This suggests that while the people themselves may be less involved in “passing a money” to get a driver’s license, a certificate of motor vehicle fitness or a birth certificate, they believe that much corruption continues amongst the “big fish” who by and large are either not successfully investigated, arrested, effectively persecuted, convicted and sentenced.

Recall, that the last Minister of Government or Permanent Secretary in Jamaica to be convicted and sent to jail was over 20 years ago. Yet the man in the street hears and sees much more today than yesterday. From over 20 radio stations, 3 national newspapers, numerous community papers, 2 national television stations, international cable networks, mobile phone calls, 24/7 talk shows, he hears and sees what his parents and grandparents never had similar opportunity to hear and see. Namely, reports of special audits by Auditor Generals, special investigations and recommendations by the Contractor General. Most of all, he hears and sees where Ministers of Government, leaders of big businesses, high officials in sporting associations and civil society organizations, even judges and prosecutors in countries around the world are being investigated for corruption; charged, found guilty and sent to prison. Just last month the former Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert and the former Commissioner of Police and Head of INTERPOL in South Africa, Jackie Selebi were indicted and sent to jail respectively for bribery and for corruption. In CARICOM, the former Prime Minister in Belize was charged for corruption, ultimately acquitted. In Trinidad and Tobago, a former Prime Minister was investigated, prosecuted and found guilty of corruption. Next door, as we speak 5 Ministers of the Turks & Caicos Islands Government of Premier Misick have been investigated, charged for corruption by The Special Prosecutor and are to face the court next month, on March 9. The Jamaican man in the street therefore asks himself, how is it that none of the big people here in Jamaica are ever charged, much less sent to jail? Is it that we are squeaky clean and in every other country the corrupt in high places are being investigated, indicted and charged? His answer, each of us in this room knows – in Jamaica there seems to be one law for the disadvantaged and another for the rich, the powerful or those with contacts who can make a telephone call to the right person.

It is not that our governing authorities have done nothing. Good laws have been passed. The Contractor General Act, the Corruption Prevention Act, the Proceeds of Crime Act, the Access to Information Act – to name but a few. Anti-corruption institutions have been established. Again to name but a few, the Office of the Contractor General, the Corruption Prevention Committee, the Parliamentary Integrity Commission, the Financial Investigation Division, the Anti-corruption Branch of the Jamaica Constabulary Force; and in the private sector Codes of Conduct which call for tax compliance and which condemn bribery of any kind. And it is not that nothing has been achieved in recent times. Let the record show that whereas between 1999 and 2003, a period of 5 years, a total of five police officers were convicted for corruption – in 2011 alone, 10 times that number were arrested and 5 times that number of police personnel were convicted, in that one year alone! Whereas, for 38 years despite violations of the Parliamentary Integrity of Members Act, no MP was convicted:

  • Last November, 8 pleaded guilty and now have a record of violating the statute
  • In 2010/2011 the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption gained two convictions for breaches of Section 15 (2) of the Corruption Prevention Act, where a declarant pleaded guilty to knowingly making false statements on the declarations

Clearly where a mile of progress is demanded, an inch of movement has been taking place, but as you know a journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step and there is no question at all that when the history of controlling corruption and transforming governance in Jamaica is written, 2011 shall be regarded as a watershed year. BUT, ONLY IF WE BUILD ON THE INITIAL STEPS TOWARDS TRANSFORMATION. This is the overall purpose for which the National Integrity Action Limited (NIAL) was launched in December 2011 – to help to build integrity, to combat corruption more effectively and to work with all sectors on a non-partisan basis, without fear or favour to transform governance. May I indicate the conclusion of four (4) dimensions of our endeavour in relation to which we seek your engagement and that of the Jamaican people in general.

  • First to enhance the professional competence of Officers of the Court and of functionaries in our main anti-corruption agencies. This, as you would immediately understand, is the central purpose of this first training seminar for prosecutors. You should know that we intend this to be an Annual Seminar where we build, year by year, the competence levels of you who are such a critical component of Jamaica’s anti-corruption arrangements. This is why, as well, the National Integrity Action Forum (NIAF) which preceded the NIAL produced a manual called Prosecuting the Corrupt: Best Practices which you shall receive on this occasion. Professional competence is indispensible, but it is far from sufficient.
  • This leads to the second dimension building professional integrity. You can be highly competent and equally highly dishonest. Regrettably, too often in the modern world, competence and integrity do not go hand in hand. In recent times, abroad and at home, police officers, prosecuting attorneys and even judges have breached cannons of integrity and have themselves run afoul of the law they are sworn to uphold. NIAL intends to encourage training in ethical practices, to highlight existing good examples such as now taking place in the Anti-corruption Branch of the JCF, and to bring to light exemplary conduct in the public as well as the private sector of successful resistance to corruption.
  • The third dimension is to strengthen political will to combat corruption. The positive perception of leaders and the strong demand by civil society has led to reported declarations from all sides of the political spectrum in published Party Mainfestos, in official statements and in public speeches against corruption, for transparency and for accountability in governance. Jamaican people must demand that these words be not lip service and that they be transformed into deeds. Political will must be transformed into political action. Not least of all in providing the legislative framework and the institutional strengthening in critical areas.

I mention four, present priorities of the NIAL urgently needed to transform our governance, namely:

  • Ensuring the effectiveness of the proposed Special Prosecutors Office
  • Urgent passage of Campaign Financing Disclosure Legislation so that we know who pays the piper and seeks to call the tune
  • Enhanced procurement regulations to reduce the likelihood of criminal elements receiving public contracts
  • Fourthly, attaching legislative sanctions to breaches of the Code of Political Conduct, in particular to the disgraceful violation of human rights which takes place in “garrison communities”

The fourth and final dimension is to strengthen, broaden and deepen public awareness of the costs of corruption, not just to Jamaica in general, but to the poor and disadvantaged in particular. Towards that end we shall be conducting research to make these costs real and concrete. On the basis of motivating and energising the man in the street to get involved in reporting acts of corruption and in building the movement as well as the collector of integrity. We already see with very little effort, the response to the 1800-CORRUPT line. We shall be ourselves motivating people to call in to our number 1-888-429-5562 and to interact with the NIAL website. You should know that it is the people’s engagement which has been and continues to prove critical to reporting on corruption and ultimately to successful investigating, prosecutions and convictions in jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Botswana and Sierra Leone. In this regard civil society and the media have a special role to play, the role that was demonstrated in their contribution to the successful extradition of the self confessed gangster Christopher “Dudus” Coke.

Currently our people are far from satisfied with most of our agencies involved in the combat of corruption and with Government’s performance as a whole in this regard. A Don Anderson poll commissioned by NIAL in November 2011 found that our people felt most satisfaction with the performance of the Office of the Contractor General (43%) and with the ACB of the JCF (42%). Others trailed. Only 20% felt that the leadership of the anti-corruption drive coming from government was strong enough. NIAL shall conduct this survey every year as a means of our people holding anti-corruption bodies to account. We intend that these performance indicators must improve.

Critical to this national priority is advancing these four dimensions – raising professional competence, enhancing professional integrity, strengthening political will and building popular demand – these are fundamental keys towards controlling corruption and transforming governance. From where we are now – in great peril – this is where we need to go to ensure the development of quality of life to which our people justly aspire and of which they are eminently capable.