There is a calculated argument making the rounds in Jamaica these days regarding the role of corruption in the electoral cycle. The argument is that corruption will have no impact on the electoral outcome in the next general elections. As such, we should not waste our time discussing it. Any discerning individual will see through this argument for what it is —politically self-serving.
For, it is clear that the perception of corruption under the present Government is more barefaced than any other time in our history. Similarly, it is clear that the people of Jamaica and the world are taking stock as reflected in the latest Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, which saw the country falling in its ranking and becoming the 4th most corrupt in the Caribbean and the 70th most corrupt in the world. This is not a label any decent, law-abiding citizen of any country will want to carry around and wear on their sleeves.
The talking class in Jamaica, clearly because of political biases, have controlled the narrative so that people leave with the impression that we are all corrupt and as such, the strong stench of corruption emanating from the Holness Government is nothing to worry about. They consistently go on talk shows, social media and other avenues of communication and try to spin data which show that corruption is not a big problem in our country.
The most egregious is when they argue that the Opposition party is pushing the corruption agenda and it is not getting any traction in the country. Interestingly, the same polls which they use to say most people believe Holness is best to lead the charge against corruption, is the same poll they are deliberately dismissing when it says over 49% of the people say the perception of corruption will impact how they vote and, more importantly, corruption has not taken over as one of the top problems in the country.
The fact is, the talking class is being deliberate because they have a political agenda, to ensure that by all means necessary the Holness Government gets a second term in office. Yes, projects are being completed a pace (and some would say, poorly implemented in most cases), the macro-economic indicators are positive, but only a few are benefiting, not the masses. Previous administrations completed massive infrastructure projects as well but with less PR around them. And truth be told, the Holness Administration now has more cash than any Government in the last 30 years, as the Simpson Miller/ Peter Phillips team of 2012-2016, did the heavy lifting to stabilise the economy and handed over the country in a financially healthy position to Holness in 2016.
Unfortunately, giving this Government a second term in office in light of the intensified level of corruption would eat away at the very fabric of our moral compass as a people and reverse our quest for building a nation of proud and decent people. For, if we reward the Holness Administration with another term, the signal is that you can misallocate the country’s resources, use aggressive PR to turn away the attention then go back and do the same without any consequences.
A strong signal will have to be sent that, despite how many projects are completed and how many shiny buildings and paved roads are built, we will not allow any Government to misappropriate State resources and get away with it. And, the argument cannot be that the other side did it when they were in Government so we can do it as well. The people elected Holness to reverse the ills of corruption but, unfortunately, it has intensified.
By any stretch of the imagination, corruption cannot be good; especially for a small, poor nation like Jamaica. It diverts resources from productive activities such as education, health, security, etc. For example, when Government funds are diverted from the stated purpose to say, buy more beds for a hospital, buy more cars for the police, build an extra class room for students to reduce over-crowding, the result is that we will have to turn away people from hospitals, wait a long time for the police to respond to crime or have children sitting on the floor in class rooms and then fail their PEP or CSEC exams. With these kinds of outcomes, the country will be worse off, overall.
Further, corruption is a tax on businesses. When a businessman has to pay bribe, he has to calculate this in the price of the goods or service that is sold to customers. This makes the price much higher and as such, poor people find it difficult to buy enough goods or services to supply their needs. Instead of buying 2 pounds of rice, they can buy only 1 pound because the price is higher due to the corruption tax.
While Prime Minister Holness is trying to steer the debate in a direction which benefits his cause, he cannot escape the fact that decisive leadership, and leadership with integrity, will be the most important factors in dealing with corruption. Holness is asking the nation to view corruption as a social problem and not as a political issue. That would be nice. However, we have to address leadership first.
Firstly, Holness’s declaration of his assets to the Integrity Commission was late and it was not until public pressure mounted on him that his declaration was made public. To this day, the nation was not told why the declaration was late. Further, his 2017 declaration is still outstanding. We cannot move on to deal with corruption unless the leader can come clean on these things. Trust matters. Similarly, there is an exodus of leaders from the Integrity Commission. The Prime Minister needs to update the nation on this.
Jamaica cannot continue on this path of intensified corruption while the Government uses an aggressive PR machinery (social media, print media, electronic media which deliberately select analyst who are sympathetic to the Government to present analysis on public affairs issues, etc) to spin the narrative and tell the country about the wonderful things that are being done and ignore the rot of corruption and the negative social ills it is having on the country.
The new Jamaica cannot be one built on shiny projects, low trust, unbridled corruption, aggressive PR and the crazy rush to get rich by any means necessary.
Corruption must be a critical issue at the next poll. The party which shows the leadership with the greatest integrity, decisiveness to deal with corruption must lead us into this decade. It must show a clear plan that once and for all will eliminate the burden of corruption that is holding back our development as a poor nation. We cannot allow the talking class, with a narrow political agenda, to dictate the narrative on this subject.
The majority of decent, law-abiding Jamaicans who just want a better life must act now and refuse to be bullied by the talking class who have access and privilege and have no real incentive to see change.