Jamaica must give serious consideration to what lies ahead should the Government and the country’s lawmakers fail to decisively and aggressively confront its corruption problem.
Corruption in Jamaica is ‘entrenched and widespread’
Only a few days ago, the United States Department of State, in its March 2017 annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR), described corruption in Jamaica as being “entrenched and widespread”.
Even more disturbing is the fact that the State Department has utilized virtually the same language, for at least the past 7 years running, to characterize the magnitude and depth of the problem.
Jamaica has long suffered from a perception that it is a highly corrupt country.
In the 15 years in which Transparency International (TI) has ranked the country in its annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI), Jamaica has averaged a CPI score of only 35 out of 100, where 0 means ‘highly corrupt’, and 100 ‘very clean’. Jamaica’s 2016 CPI was 39.
TI has said that a CPI score of under 50, signals prevalent bribery, a lack of punishment for corruption, and public institutions that do not respond to the needs of citizens.
Jamaica has probably reached a ‘tipping point’
It is also noteworthy that a major study, that was conducted in 2015 by a global think-tank, the Institute for Economics and Peace, concluded that when a country’s CPI falls beneath 40, it would have reached a ‘tipping point’ for the collapse of government institutions, instability, and a rise in internal violence.
It is arguable that Jamaica may have reached this ‘tipping point’, and is already witnessing some of these manifestations.
To begin with, while none of Jamaica’s institutions has ‘collapsed’, some are in a state of relative dysfunction. It is also indisputable that Jamaica has achieved notoriety as a murder capital of the world, and as a country that’s stricken with inordinately high levels of crime and violence.
For the 10-year period, 2005 – 2014, Jamaica was ranked, after Honduras and El Salvador, as having the world’s highest murder rate per capita, with 14,968 murders committed, or 49.1 murders per 100,000 persons.
The World Economic Forum (WEF), in its 2016/2017 Global Competitiveness Report, has ranked Jamaica as being among the world’s 3 worst countries on “the business costs of crime and violence”, and among the world’s 5 worst on “organized crime”. The report was based on a survey of 138 countries.
Jamaicans, themselves, do not have a favourable view of their country’s leaders, nor of some of the country’ most critical institutions when it comes to the issue of corruption.
The TI Global Corruption Barometer, which assesses the perception of corruption in national institutions globally, in 2013, found that 86% of Jamaican respondents saw the country’s police as “corrupt/extremely corrupt”. 85% felt the same way about the country’s political parties, while 74% viewed the Parliament in a similar light.
Only 3 senior public officials have been jailed for corruption in Jamaica since the island became independent nearly 55 years ago. This is a striking phenomenon. It can only be interpreted as supporting the view that corruption and impunity in Jamaica are deeply entrenched and widespread.
The 2017 Jamaica Integrity Commission Bill is weak
Despite promises that have been made by successive administrations to strengthen the country’s anti-corruption institutional framework, Jamaicans are yet to see anything of substance that will effectively address the pervasive and endemic corruption that has long afflicted the island.
The much-heralded and long-awaited Jamaica Integrity Commission Bill that was passed in the House of Representatives on January 31, 2017 will not advance Jamaica’s anti-corruption fight.
I have argued elsewhere that the Bill, in many respects, is weak, and does not reflect present-day international best practices in anti-corruption and anti-bribery. Further, the Bill has failed to fulfil some of Jamaica’s key international anti-corruption treaty obligations.
The proposed Jamaica Integrity Commission is structurally flawed
The Integrity Commission, as proposed by the Bill, and which will merge the Office of the Contractor General, the Parliament Integrity Commission and the Corruption Prevention Commission, is also structurally flawed. There’s no question that it will fail as an effective and efficient anti-corruption institution.
Contrary to international best practices, the Commission will have no CEO to co-ordinate, direct and manage its day-to-day operations, or to be held accountable for its affairs.
Added to this is the fact that the Commission’s several Directors will be subjected to the directives of 5 Commissioners who, by law, can give any of them (except the Prosecutions Director) “special” or “general” directions. This will obviously lead to a very unwieldy situation, while undermining the operational integrity, effectiveness and efficiency of the Commission.
It is also important to note that the Integrity Commission will neither be a ‘single’, nor ‘independent’ anti-corruption commission, as it was intended to be. It will have no powers of detention or arrest. Neither will it be independent in its criminal investigative function. It will have to rely upon other law enforcement agencies, inclusive of the Police, which do not report to it, for assistance in the foregoing regard.
These are serious best practice deficits. At the end of the day, the Commission will lack full control over who is investigated, when and how they are investigated and, ultimately, who is to be prosecuted by its Prosecutions Director.
Successive Administrations haven’t honoured anti-corruption commitments
But what is concerning is that although Jamaica knows precisely what must be done to escape the tentacles of corruption, it appears to lack the courage of leadership, and the political will, to effectively implement even the very corrective measures that successive administrations had promised they would bring to the fore.
The ruling Administration, for example, had, while campaigning, “committed”, in its pre-election manifesto, to “bring an end to the incidence of rampant corruption” in Jamaica. Very importantly, it had acknowledged that “corruption impedes economic growth, undermines the rule of law, and tears down the fabric of society”. It had also said that Jamaica can be transformed, but “only if corruption is tackled in an uncompromising manner”.
That said, it then committed that if it were elected into office, it would be “revising the work already under way” on the Integrity Commission Bill regarding the proposed Integrity Commission, and “making revisions to ensure its effectiveness”.
However, and as is now well known, this was not done. The Bill was passed in the House on January 31, 2017, almost one year after the Government was elected into office, but without the promised “revisions” taking place.
The immediately preceding Administration is not blameless either. Prior to entering office it, too, in the then pre-election debates, had committed to combat corruption and, in particular, to strengthen the Office of the Contractor General (OCG).
However, within just 6 months of being elected to office, it filed several applications in the Jamaica Supreme Court to curtail the powers and functions of the OCG. The move was subsequently frowned upon by the Court when it summarily dismissed the applications in its February 2013 ruling.
Breaking pre-election commitments goes to the root of credibility and trust
When leaders, anywhere, act in this way, it goes to the very root of their credibility, and the trust that a believing electorate has reposed in them.
Transparency International, in January 2017, while commenting on elections in Africa, was moved to urge African leaders who win elections on the anti-corruption platform to live up to their pledges.
The Speaker of Nigeria’s Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Onofiok Luke, a lawyer by profession, has gone one step further. On February 7, 2017, during an address, he said that a failure by politicians and political parties to fulfil election campaign promises should be seen as a form of corruption, and that offending politicians should be prosecuted.
Sustainable economic growth not possible without combating corruption
Jamaica has averaged GDP growth of 0.5% per annum over the last 20 years, and 0.2% per annum over the past 10 years, and has now set its eyes on an ambitious GDP growth target of 5% in the next 4 years but, curiously, without the support of a clearly articulated and aggressive anti-corruption plan. The country is not short on eminent advice as to why this is futile.
In his July 2013 visit to Jamaica, Professor Tommy Koh, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large, cautioned Jamaica’s leaders that a zero tolerance approach for corruption, and a strong rule of law, are ‘the two strategies that Jamaica will need in its efforts to achieve economic growth and sustainable development’. He said that these were the cornerstones of Singapore’s success.
In an October 25, 2016 joint press conference with Pakistan’s foreign minister, the IMF’s Managing Director Christine Lagarde was quoted as saying that the “economic progress of a country is impossible without curbing corruption”. Earlier, in May 2016, at the London International Anti-Corruption Summit, Ms. Lagarde warned: “If you are pro-growth, you must be against corruption.”
Combating corruption, as a driver of foreign investment, sustainable economic growth, and development, is a principle that is universally acknowledged. It has been consistently enunciated by the United Nations, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the OECD, the European Union, the G20 and G8, the IMF, the World Bank, and a host of other multilateral institutions and world leaders.
The costs of corruption are far-reaching
Corruption is a major concern for developing, emerging and developed economies, alike. However, for developing countries like Jamaica, the magnitude of the potential for the adverse socio-economic consequences that corruption portends is substantial.
Corruption erodes the quality of life of citizens by diverting public funds away from critical social necessities, such as healthcare, education, water, roads and electricity.
Corruption also leads to human rights violations, steals political elections, distorts financial markets, reduces investor confidence, stunts business activity, wipes out jobs, feuls migration, increases the price of goods and services, undermines and destroys confidence in public institutions, and enables organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish. And, yes, corruption also kills.
Many studies have been undertaken in an effort to estimate the monetary costs of corruption, and bribery.
The OECD, in 2014, estimated that the cost of corruption equals more than 5% of global GDP, or approximately US$2.6 trillion, with over US$1 trillion paid in bribes each year. The IMF, in a May 2016 news article, estimated the annual cost of bribery at a massive $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion globally.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has equated private sector bribery in developing countries to a tax on growth. It says it’s costing at least $500 billion each year, or more than three times the total amount of foreign assistance that these countries received in 2012.
The WEF estimates that corruption increases the cost of doing business by up to 10% on average. Other studies have estimated that the cost of corruption is akin to a 20% regressive tax that foreign investors must face.
Interestingly, the World Bank estimates a 4X increase in a country’s per-capita income, in the long run, when it fights corruption.
Jamaica has run out of excuses for failing to end corruption
But Jamaica does not need to be persuaded about the perils of the cancer of corruption. The Government’s own 2013 National Security Policy speaks instructively on the issue.
It says that (a) “crime, corruption and violence are the primary threats to the nation”; (b) “violence, crime and corruption have profoundly retarded Jamaica’s development”; (c) “the economy is now, at best, 1/3rd of the size it should have been, and may be only 1/10th of the size it could have been”; (d) “effective action against crime and corruption would do more to improve the economy of Jamaica than any other measure”; and (e) “the most important task facing Jamaica now is to root out crime and corruption, and thereby address the underlying causes of poverty and suffering in the country”.
Quite recently, on March 6, 2017, Ghana’s President, His Excellency Nana Akufo-Addo, on the occasion of his country’s 60th independence, said that Ghana had run out of excuses for failing to end poverty and corruption.
It occurred to me then, that Jamaica, as it approaches its 55th year of independence in August, had also run out of excuses for failing to end corruption and poverty.