Tackling corruption should be one, if not the biggest, priority of the Government and civil society, this year. It is still standard fare that Jamaica’s corruption perception index (CPI) is languishing miserably in the late 30s. Out of a possible score of 100, Jamaica has consistently hovered between 30 and 40 per cent, holding firm to 38 over the last three surveys by the global watchdog Transparency International (TI).
Whether it covers the more than 50 per cent of environmental permits reinstated by politicians after the National Environmental Protection Agency rejects them, or the awarding of a road contract to one who mixes politics with the asphalt, rather than aggregate, or the buying of a piece of property because of ones political connections, it is damaging to the nations interest.
Not without reason, we have focused on Officer Dibble, the itinerant police foot soldier, who is often parodied as asking, Lef or write? Either you lef a thing or mi write a ticket. Doubtless there are still too many policemen and women whose extended arms and palms cause them to suffer from Corporal tunnel syndrome, but the truth is, the data do not support the extent of the perception.
data vs perception
Once more, I return to the TI study that shows that only 12 per cent of Jamaicans say that they, or their family members, have paid a bribe to a member of the constabulary. The number might seem low, but, if the figure were anywhere near the 80-odd per cent that people feel, then wolves would eat our breakfast, lunch and dinner. One must understand that the survey measures both actual exposure to corruption and the belief of the population. The study says that more than 80 per cent of Jamaicans feel that the police are corrupt; but only 12 per cent of them have actually given Corpie a change.
In 2014, Commissioner Owen Ellington retired with such speed that one of his former subordinates could have clocked him on the radar gun and ticketed him. While there is nothing that links the departure of Ellington to any corruption, he himself had said that he was stepping down to allow for the unfettered investigation into the allegations of death squads and the operations in Tivoli in 2010, that left more than 70 civilians dead. The year 2014 also saw the conviction of crowd favourite, Senior Superintendent James Forbes, for attempting to pervert the course of justice, and Deputy Superintendent Albert Diah for breaching the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) Act. And it ended with the rejection of the appeal of the 2013 conviction of SSP Assan Thompson, for failing to report information to the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption. Scores of rank and file men and women within the constabulary now have to see the force and wish it well, because of internal purges, and INDECOM is watching them like a headmaster monitoring his grade 11 boys. As bad as our cops have been over the years, the American police scare me more.
Yet, I have felt like John the Baptist, or a preacher on a JUTC bus, because the most disturbing statistic coming from out of the TI survey has been ignored by all unconcerned, including my colleagues in both media houses that I am associated with. According to the same study, with the same respondents, who report that one out of every eight Jamaicans bribed the police, one out of every 16 Jamaicans has given money to the judiciary in order to influence the course of justice. None of the lawyers, or law students in media, no lawyer who shapes public opinion, no Bar Association of Jamaica, no Jamaicans for Justice, no civil coalitions and not even TIs own local affiliate National Integrity Action (NIA) has paid it serious attention.
Headed by veteran politician, trade unionist and academic, Trevor Munroe, NIA must have a clear picture of the sharks below the surface of the water, as the popular Jamaican maxim goes. However, to my great consternation and displeasure, mine has been the only voice expressing concern over this disturbing finding.
scrutiny of our judges
As an academic, it cannot be my place to discard one part of the survey simply because it might be politically uncomfortable or seem judgemental. Indeed, as Justice Minister Mark Golding now pushes the Criminal Justice Administration and Judicature legislation, the scrutiny of our judges has to be paramount. Under this proposed statute, accused persons, with mounting evidence against them, would benefit from lower sentences if they plead guilty. Nonetheless, this does not take away the discretion of judges, and if six per cent of Jamaicans have found ways to slide some money under the bench to yur anna, is it not possible that prejudice can railroad the locomotive of justice?
Golding himself is a lawyer, and was in law school with some of the present judges, magistrates, prosecutors and defence attorneys. I am willing to bet that he has asked himself, how come some of these people are magistrates or judges? In the same way that I am puzzled that no-nonsense resident magistrate Judith Pusey is not properly seated on the bench, there are others whose basis for appointment and intellect as well as their judgments still puzzle me. Although it is not my place to ask why Pusey is stuck in the hole, I have to ask, as a labour specialist, how come another magistrate has found herself in court over breaches of our labour law? Perhaps the experts in the labour ministry, who assessed the complaint of the worker, do not know the law.
This is not an onslaught on our judges, but the fact is, all humans are flawed and it is systems that keep the wayward in check. If priests and pastors, who have God on speed dial, can steal and be sexual perverts, why must judges be immune? Are we satisfied with the procedures regarding the appointment, promotion and overall conduct of judges?
Shouldn’t we start here?