There are two popular concepts that come to mind, whenever I think of Jamaican politics.
They are; you scratch my back and I will scratch yours and the other is honour among thieves. While it was William Shakespeare who popularized the latter in the end of the 1500s in his play Henry IV, Jamaican PNP and JLP politicians have adopted it wholeheartedly and have been applying it religiously since we got independence 60 years ago.
Yup, we will be celebrating that great event with much fanfare in a few weeks!
In the meantime, the country continues to be impoverished by corruption, which is estimated to cost us in excess of $100 billion per year.
Don’t be taken in by what the politicians say about each other from the platforms or in Parliament! That is just for show, for when it comes to what most politicians want, ie. the spoils of office, it’s a different ballgame.
In fact, if a being came from Mars it could be excused for thinking that Jamaica is the least corrupt country in the world, since all over the world it sees reports of politicians being jailed for corruption, but never Jamaica, no matter what the Auditor General finds or how many spots we slide down on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.
I know people like to point to the late JAG Smith, a former JLP Minister of Labour who was imprisoned in 1990, supposedly for stealing farm workers’ money.
However, he was not jailed for corruption, but for being rude and abusive to an influential member of the PNP which then formed the Government!
For in true “honour among thieves’ style, the powerful late trade unionist, former Prime Minister Hugh Lawson Shearer and his bosom friend, the late Michael Manley, who was then prime minister, had arranged that it would be swept under the carpet. Unfortunately, Smith’s legendary arrogance caused him to be abusive to the final arbiter on the matter in the PNP Government and that is why it was pursued and Smith imprisoned!
In the meantime, our neighbours take corruption so seriously that on July 8, 2022, our own Jamaica Observer carried this item on how a former prime minister of Trinidad, allegedly involved in corruption there, is being treated in his country. It says in part “September 2 (2022) the court is to give a ruling to an application by the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) George Busby, who has requested an adjournment into the restart of a decades-old preliminary inquiry into corruption charges against former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday and three others, including his wife, Oma.”
Since there is no penalty in our political system for corruption, despite the numerous cases that have been cited publicly over the years, the politicians do as they like and remain untouchable.
Our legendary corruption is not only widely known in Jamaica but in the neighbouring islands, for look at this headline in the St Kitts and NevisObserver in 2019; “Jamaica losing $J100 billion annually from crime, corruption.”
And yes, we do have a so-called Integrity Commission, but guess what, it is being gagged and deterred from doing its job by, guess who? The Jamaican parliamentarians, JLP and PNP alike, of course. (You scratch my back and I will scratch yours).
This recently led our Financial Investigation Division (FID) to say in frustration that ‘the work of agencies of Government in the fight against corruption was being hamstrung by the need to seek ministerial approval before they can exchange information on investigations. The FID said where the Integrity Commission needs to exchange information with designated competent authorities or foreign entities for legitimate investigations, it should not be hindered, and that the Act needs to be amended to removethis stumbling block in the fight against corruption”.
Also, according to reports coming out of Parliament last week, when the Integrity Commission Bill was being considered, there was consensus between the Government and the Opposition to curtail the ability of the commission to speak about its investigations until probes were completed and reports tabled in Parliament.
This, despite Justice Panton and numerous others pointing out that:
“The Commission is firmly of the view that this is a serious impediment to good governance. …It is clearly ridiculous that whereas the police, quite rightly, can say that they are investigating a criminal matter, the Integrity Commission is not allowed to say it is.”
The politicians remain firmly determined to keep secret whether any of the numerous allegations of corruption, are being investigated, thus preventing members of the public or even whistleblowers from coming forward with information.
So, whereas the public is often exhorted with these fine words in the interest of fighting crime; ‘If you know something say something,’ that only applies where the alleged criminals are mere plebs, not politicians.
So yes, politicians shout about corruption from the rooftops, but you scratch my back and I will scratch yours remains the dominant feature of the Jamaican parliamentary practice.
And the people perish.