Fri | Dec 14, 2018

Gordon Robinson | Change we can believe in?

Published:Sunday | November 25, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Prime Minister Andrew Holness

Andrew Holness, in an otherwise impressive presentation to the recent Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Conference, offered a commitment that when debt-to-GDP ratio is at 60 per cent, and Government is in a position to increase spending:

"We will not make the mistakes of the past. We will not allow corruption to eat out our money. We will not allow inefficiency to eat out our savings."

Well, whoop-di-doo! But what happens until then? The JLP leader's silence on the debilitating effect of present-day corruption on Jamaica's economy and most Jamaicans' aspirations was deafening.

In October, the United Nations Security Council (whose mandate is to promote international peace and security) held a first-time conference to address links between corruption and conflict. It considered ways to effectively disrupt leaders' illicit siphoning of money and other practices that weaken state institutions. Secretary General Antonio Guterres told the Council:

"Corruption breeds disillusion[ment] with Government and governance and is often at the root of political dysfunction and social disunity."

Citing estimates by the World Economic Forum, Guterres said that the global cost of corruption is at least five per cent of global gross domestic product.

The link between corruption and crime (including drug trafficking and lotto scamming) has been staring us in the face for decades, but we prefer to 'see and blind'. Crime is like bacteria. It thrives in unhealthy environments. Corruption is crime's favourite environment.

 

MAIN OBSTACLE

 

Jamaica's number one obstacle to growth and prosperity isn't violent crime. It's CORRUPTION. Corruption costs developing nations 10 times the amount of foreign aid received and more than we need to modernise and equip security, health and education. It's NOT the economy keeping us back, stupid. It's CORRUPTION keeping the economy back!

Jamaica creates and facilitates corruption and then approaches crime (corruption's evil spawn) like a man who fights fire by pouring petrol on it. Or lights another fire and watches them fight each other. So we create an equally violent and corrupt JCF to pretend- fight corruption. We emasculate parliamentary anti-corruption commissions, and the Opposition's biggest concern is temporary appointments. Really? Seriously? When will Jamaica scientifically study crime as medicine studies bacteria and attacks its root (corruption) with designer antibiotics?

We must create effective anti-corruption infrastructures, starting with constitutional safeguards; an independent Integrity Commission with teeth; dedicated investigators, prosecutors, and a separately staffed and funded anti-corruption court.

What's the PM doing about corruption TODAY? Has he announced any systemic changes to stem the corruption torrent plaguing our public service? He spoke not a word of any such plan. Apparently, further shuffling of thimbles to successfully complete three-card tricks for the next election is the strategy. Until then, it's business as usual to the detriment of the economy. While the PM promises vaguely to deal with it when debt-GDP is 60 per cent, he ignores the incontrovertible fact that corruption is what is slowing our progress towards that admirable goal.

For example, will he take his cue from Constable Collis 'Chucky' Brown's conviction on three counts of murder, allegedly in furtherance of a covert JCF policy to eliminate suspected violent criminals, as the basis for urgent JCF transformation? Will he have the political cojones to set about changing JCF's "brute force and ignorance" approach to crime that has been endemic for decades?

Will he admit publicly that this narrow mindset, created, nurtured, and driven by legislation passed by Parliament (beginning with the Suppression of Crime Act) and aided and abetted by successive governments policies and attitudes towards security-force methods, has been not only an abject failure but contributed to Jamaica's increased rates of violent crime? Will he mercilessly weed out those corrupt cops who work hand in hand with drug dons and other organised crime lords no matter the level of pushback or fiscal adversity faced?

Or will we be told the conviction of one constable has done the trick? Will we be told we don't need further investigation to discover how high the rot might've climbed or how deep it has seeped in? Will we be told to continue burying our heads in sand or will our PM insist that he'll "not allow corruption to eat out our money" by cleansing Augean police stables NOW before debt-GDP arrives at 60 per cent?

And I won't listen to any more pious nonsense about those "decent and honest" officers performing with credit and integrity. Rubbish! These are the same police who insist community residents inform on murderers in their midst without any guarantee police won't inform on THEM to the said murderers. It is full time those "decent and honest" police officers inform on their colleagues. They can't tell me they don't know what's going on, whether or not they're personally involved. Let THEM set the example THEN ask me to inform on my community gunmen.

Is the PM serious when he says, "We will not allow inefficiency to eat out our savings? If yes, why's he taking so long to implement urgently needed public-sector reform? Why has 'Babsy' Grange just named THREE separate boards to oversee aspects of sports in a nation with less than three million inhabitants? New boards for Independence Park Limited (11 members), Institute of Sports (13 members), and Sports Development Foundation (nine members) were just appointed. What the granny gungus natty is going on here? Why do we need three institutions with 33 directors, three staffs, PLUS a fully staffed ministry to oversee government's sporting interests? This MUST be the Guy Lombardo Show!

And this doesn't include the sport of horse racing. Why has it taken over 10 years to merge three gambling commissions into one Gaming Commission (GC)? No gaming industry, let alone Jamaica's microscopic one by world standards, needs 21 political board appointments and three massive, separate staffs.

One GC headed by an executive chairman (essential in an inherently corrupt industry) with two external directors (expertise in security and accounting) is all that's required. The commission should be structured with four departments (Racing, Betting, Gaming, and Enforcement) with a staff maximum of 16 for mainly online monitoring and regulation.

On the horse racing side, raceday stewards should be employed by the promoter, NOT regulator. This reduces government expenditure and satisfies fundamental natural-justice requirements as licensees wouldn't have to appeal from stewards' decisions to stewards' employers.

 

CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM

 

Will PM commence a process of constitutional reform NOW that seeks to deliver utmost transparency in the appointment of Cabinet ministers and statutory boards? Will he at least try to ensure recent malpractices at PCJ/NESoL don't recur, or, if they do, culprits are swiftly identified and brought to justice?

Will he eliminate the Corruption Development Fund (CDF) created to give MPs strangleholds on constituency spending a flagrant excess of authority; miles outside their job descriptions and barefaced, raw politicking?

From as long ago as October 14, 2012, ('Flush the slush') I wrote:

"In my opinion, the CDF is unconstitutional. MPs have only one constitutional function:

"48. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, Parliament may make laws for the peace, order, and good government of Jamaica."

The myth perpetuated for decades of the MP as the "corner don" who must provide handouts on behalf of government as almighty provider was exposed in Parliament by the great Danny Melville (the last PNP MP for North East St Ann) from as far back as 2000 but continues unabated.

But nothing in any law permits an MP any involvement in public spending. The Constitution provides that Consolidated Fund resources MUST be spent on "specified public services" through the finance ministry's warrant process. In a letter to the editor published on September 17, 2012, PNP General Secretary Julian Robinson stoutly defended the CDF and quoted a circuitous practice involving approval by a parliamentary committee and payment directly to "institutions that provide goods or services" to conclude no taxpayer funds are spent by MPs. So why does Julian publish an annual account of his CDF spending to constituents (admirable) and recently asked constituents to contribute ideas as to how his CDF funds should be spent?

What exactly did the PM mean when he recently announced a $900-million Christmas work project (bush clearing, drain cleaning and road patching) which, according to The Gleaner, is to be "driven by parliamentarians", whose "role will primarily include directing the two implementing agencies - NSWMA and NWA"? The Gleaner further specified: "Each constituency will receive $6 million for bush clearing and drain cleaning and $5 million for road patching"

Both sides of Gordon House welcomed the announcement. Opposition Leader Peter Phillips' sole expressed concern was that MPs are "hopeful" that the programme will help them address "some portion of the tremendous demand" for work across their constituencies.

We nuh serious 'bout corruption!

Peace and love.

- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.