PRESENTATION TO JAMAICA CUSTOMS AGENCY AT THEIR ANNUAL ANTI-CORRUPTION DAY CELEBRATIONS
DECEMBER 7, 2018
ON THE THEME
“CORRUPTION ROBS US ALL – LET’S BREAK THE CHAIN”
Chairperson, Members of the Platform, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning. May I thank the Jamaica Customs Agency for this invitation to share in your commemoration of International Anti-Corruption day 2018. Allow me to congratulate the JCA for developing this tradition of an annual commemoration of International Anti-Corruption Day, a celebration in which countries all over the world partake. Justifiably so, because countries big and small, rich and poor, north, south, east and west suffer along with Jamaica and the Jamaican people from corruption, a corruption in which the United Nations estimates that one trillion dollars is paid in bribes to public officials everywhere, including Jamaica, and that 2.6 trillion dollars is stolen from the global economy according to the United Nations again. No wonder the nations of the world agreed in 2015 that “sustainable development” is not attainable without more effective combat of bribery and corruption.
So let me also congratulate you on the theme you have so aptly chosen “Corruption Robs Us All – Let’s Break the Chain”. The robbery is not something that the authorities have failed to recognise, both in the past and in these more recent days. Allow me to quote from Ministry Paper No. 63 laid in Parliament in 2014 entitled “A New Approach: National Security Policy for Jamaica – towards a secure and prosperous nation.” This document estimates how much all of us are being robbed: “the economy is now at best one third of the size it should have been; it may be only one tenth of the size it could have been”. So, all things being equal, your average income whether Customs Officer, Police Officer, Teacher, etc. could be three to ten times what it is now were it not this robbery by corruption and its twin demon “crime”. And who is complicit in this robbery? And here I quote again “some of those who profit from crime appear to be respectable citizens…facilitators; lawyers, accountants, politicians, bankers, and real estate brokers who assist the criminals by laundering the proceeds of crime…establishing front businesses to conceal illegal activity…investing criminal profits in legitimate enterprises” etc. These official insights are four years ago, what about official insights of three days ago: “over the last five years, Petrojam recorded total estimated oil losses of two million barrels valuing approximately 18 billion dollars…184,951 BBLS in 2017-2018…Petrojam’s annual unaccountable oil loss of 0.75% is almost two times its own Key Performance Indicator of 0.40%.” Where or to whom did this oil go? (Auditor General’s Report December 2018). And why don’t we the public know how the gas to the retailers is being priced? We could go on quoting and talking about how crime and corruption “robs us all”, but correctly, your theme says “Let’s break the chain”.
Since we met last in December 2017 on this occasion International Anti-Corruption Day, many of us have redoubled our efforts to “break the chain”, and as we are now summoned to attain new heights in this endeavour we need to acknowledge and appreciate these efforts:
- First of all, you at the Jamaica Customs Agency have been closing loopholes and you are now exceeding your revenue targets; you have been reducing the documentation and thereby the possibility of corrupt interventions in relation to export. The World Bank Doing Business Report 2019, tells us that Jamaica is below the Latin American and Caribbean average in the time it takes to comply with export documentation, though we still have a long way to go to attain best in class standards.
- Then, there is the work of our Law Enforcement Agencies and our Security Forces; through the efforts of our police officers and soldiers, and the cooperation of the public, homicide very often facilitated by corrupt provision of illegal weapons and ammunition, is down 21% this year. Hundreds more Jamaicans than in 2017 are preserving the “right to life”, the foundation of all other human rights.
- CTOC is now making progress, not just in arresting individual gangsters, but in bringing entire gangs before the courts; thirteen are due to be in court next year; the Chief Justice is making advances towards a world class court system – in terms of trial date certainty, clearance date certainty is over 90% in many divisions, etc. – application of sentencing guidelines to enhance the speed with which wrongdoers can be brought to trial.
- The PSOJ and our Umbrella Groups of Churches are more focussed on good governance and speaking out strongly against long-standing abuses which open the door to corruption
- Most media houses are paying more robust attentiveness to exposing corruption – I recall Giovani Dennis’ documentary “Pothole Paradise”.
- Both the Executive and the Parliament, to be fair, have been more active in passing laws, like Campaign Finance Reform and the Integrity Commission Act, both of which are now on the statute books since we last met.
- Needless to say, the Auditor General’s office is manifesting exemplary integrity and courage in identifying wrongs.
We commend these bodies and reaffirm NIA’s commitment to partners with their endeavours.
These efforts have not been in vain, gains are being made in terms of our citizenry’s intolerance of bribery, their speaking out against wrongs reflected in the immense upsurge in legitimate reports to Crime Stop and internationally the Corruption Perception Index 2017 published in January 2018 registered unprecedented improvement for Jamaica in both score and rank on the CPI.
However, these gains cannot be taken for granted, the corrupt are becoming even more brazen and we need to sustain our efforts. Equally those institutions and individuals who are lagging in the combat of corruption, especially around the current Petrojam issue need to step up to the plate. Failure so to do can put Jamaica’s score and rank on the CPI seriously at risk; failure to act decisively will encourage more citizens to believe that corruption is getting worse; that the government authorities are not doing enough; that democratic institutions cannot manage and therefore, military rule is required to deal with crime and corruption. Without them realising it more of our people shall be willing to jump from the frying pan into the fire!!
The truth is that, the corrupt in the Caribbean and globally shall use every strategy to retain their ill-gotten gains; they remain entrenched in high places despite efforts to bring them to justice. These efforts are real and are producing results in many countries around the world, in South Korea and Brazil for example, the integrity and courage of investigators and prosecutors within the last year have brought Presidents and former Presidents before the courts; within the last few months the Prime Ministers of Israel and of Italy are now facing prosecution and jail if found guilty; in the United Kingdom and the United States, investigators, prosecutors and judges are bringing persons of high rank to justice. And this does not only apply to public officials, but to powerful business tycoons and heads of global corporations, like Samsung and Hyundai, and Banks like JP Morgan and Deutsche Bank.
In Jamaica, on the other hand hitherto, their counterparts committing wrongs in the public and private sector appear to be largely immune except to resignation and enjoyment thereafter of ill-gotten gains. Hence, I suggest that the number one responsibility in dealing with corruption which our National Security Policy describes as the number one threat to economic progress and prosperity is to target and to catch big fish. As our National Security Policy puts it “This means that the focus has to shift from street level criminals to the top bosses…the people who handle the money, i.e. the facilitators”.
Just think of it, it cannot be right that the youth, or the man in the street who has no political connections, no bag of money to get a big lawyer, who didn’t benefit from traditional high schooling, was a victim of poor parenting – he often for petty crime is investigated, prosecuted and jailed admittedly for wrong; at the same time, general managers, CEOs, Ministers, the top ranking, those in high society who do wrong with public money are allowed to simply resign after gormandising themselves at public expense on high salaries without qualification, on travelling allowances without authorisation and on single chocolate cake costing more than the monthly salary of hard-working public officers. This has to stop, but for it to cease, all of us honest citizens who want a better life, whether PNP or JLP, Customs Officer or Police Investigator, teacher or parson, businessman or public official, we have to come together to demand action. We have seen where coming together has produced results. The Auditor General tells us that she did her report “stemming from public concerns”; the period of acting by the Chief Justice had to quickly end in his full appointment because of public outcry. The more united we are, the more vocal, the more sustained our efforts – in social media, on talk shows, in letters to the newspaper, in representations to our political leader; the more the result shall have to go beyond good reports and relevant recommendations to punishment of the corrupt, to putting the untouchable corrupt in “short pants”.
In this regard, I would wish to give special encouragement to our investigators in MOCA, in the Integrity Commission, in CTOC – to do their jobs, not just with integrity but with courage, without fear or favour; the public will support you if they see you standing up. That’s what producing results elsewhere. To the Parliamentarians I say, complete the regulations for the Public Procurement Act, assented to by the Governor General from October 2015, but not yet in effect and therefore, the Financial Secretary is not yet able to impose significant surcharge on the guilty who give contracts to friends nor criminal penalties, fines and jail time for those who breach the Public Procurement guidelines as that Law provides. Ladies and gentlemen, we are at the 11th hour, we need to get the authorities to do the right thing, and the authorities need to understand that their failure so to do is already imperilling trust and confidence in Jamaica’s democratic institutions.