The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, ON, MP
Certification Ceremony for Integrity Champions
November 12, 2017
I’m pleased to be here with you today at this very important certification ceremony. There is no doubt that integrity, accountability and transparency are necessary pillars of any prosperous and progressive society. Having true ambassadors of integrity as the theme highlights and who are graduating today will definitely improve and build capacity for local and citizen based actions against corruption.
Let me commend the Council of Voluntary Social Services and the National Integrity Action for undertaking this important initiative. Let me also express our gratitude to the USAID for its continued assistance. You have been longstanding and faithful partners in Jamaica’s development.
The principles that have been taught in this training must always be promoted, protected and upheld in order to strengthen good governance, social cohesion and economic advancement. The focus on integrity centred leadership by CVSS and NIA and the presence of integrity officers in our communities schools, youth clubs, churches and elsewhere promotes the very important message that we all need to take responsibility for our actions and endeavour to be agents of change in doing our part to secure a better Jamaica.
To the 434 participants who have received this integrity focused and anti-corruption leadership training, my heartiest congratulations to you. Your role as integrity officers is indispensable in developing a culture that promotes integrity, transparency and accountability. The antithesis of integrity, accountability and transparency is corruption. Corruption erodes collective action that is the heart of democracy. It does this by reducing the accountability of those in power and by weakening the links between public participation and action buy policy makers.
Corruption unravels the very fabric of democracy by reducing trust in government, and institutions; and undermines the legitimacy of those in power. Corruption is inextricably linked to Jamaica’s crime problem. It is corruption that allows illegal guns and ammunition to come through our ports. Have you ever reflected on the recent gun finds as many as nineteen firearms including high-powered assault rifles; the consequence of those making their way out of the port and into the hands of gangsters and how that happen and who are the people that facilitate this? Is the payoff more valuable than the lives of innocent Jamaicans? Is it OK to say well it’s the “runnings” without thinking of the consequence of those who will be running by those guns? That is corruption.
Corruption is not just a cost in money, it’s not just robbing the poor of resources but it is robbing the poor of their lives. It is corruption that allows a stolen motor-vehicle to be registered and resold. Is it ok to say oh it’s just the “runnings”, the insurance company is going to pay for it?
Recently someone who is close to me called me up to say the motor vehicle that he had just purchased with his retirement payoff, his gratuity was stolen. Parked it by his gate, went to bed, woke up next morning, car is gone and he’s having a great difficulty now because he was depending on that car to earn a little extra change and having spent the last of his gratuity he couldn’t insure the car comprehensively so he went third party so now he has lost the motor-vehicle with nothing to gain.
Corruption- stealing from the poor. Those people who facilitate it too say well it’s just the “runnings”. It’s not just a faceless, nameless entity that suffers; it’s our brothers and sisters that suffer as a result of corruption. It is corruption that furtively slows up and even denies the granting of a permit in order to secure a payment. It’s corruption.
Jamaica could grow much faster if the processes, the bureaucracy that deals with regulations and permitting worked faster to – put in the way of enterprising and industrious people, unnecessary obstacles in order to be paid to remove them – drives up the cost of business. So that housing solution that should come to you a million dollar less, you have to pay a million dollars more; that is the cost of corruption.
The definition of corruption is asymmetric. Sometimes what you see as corruption may not be what someone else sees as corruption but there is corruption in almost every facet of Jamaican life.
When the Nutri-bun gets diverted from the primary school and ends up in a private shop somewhere that is corruption. When the tuck shop revenue gets shared up amongst a certain set of people and don’t make it into the treasury of the school and the students don’t get the benefit of that; that is corruption. And we all know that when you should put down two inches of asphalt on the road and I could go on and on and on but we all are too aware of the examples of corruption.
There are several measures the government is putting in place. You would know about the Integrity Commission Bill; the new Bill that was passed recently and gazetted. His Excellency the Governor General will in short order appoint five new commissioners to the single Anti-Corruption Agency so we can proceed to further implementation of this new measure. Also, the debate on the Major Organised Crime and Anti-corruption Agency, (MOCA) bill has opened in the Lower House of Parliament. These pieces of legislation have been too long in the making but they will certainly play a significant role in curbing corruption.
Friends, integrity ambassadors, we cannot be ambivalent about tackling corruption. We have to be strident. We cannot just talk conveniently. We must act even if it brings some discomfort. Before the Senate is a Bill to create a National Civil Identification Registry. At the heart of any anti-corruption exercise, any measure to bring transparency, accountability, integrity is to establish the ‘who’. You can’t fight corruption by saying everyone is corrupt. You’re not going to fight corruption in the police force by saying the police force is corrupt.
Accountability requires ‘who’. ‘Who’ identifying ‘who’ brings transparency so if you’re not serious about identifying people then we can’t really be saying that we’re serious about tackling corruption. You can’t prosecute the police force for corruption but you may prosecute an officer of the police force when you have identified.
Anti-corruption efforts require a process of establishing verifying and certifying identity. Several different databases of identity using different standards and means of identification without a means of cross-matching do not enhance transparency. It allows corrupt persons to escape accountability if you can’t identify “who”. It creates an ecosystem of informality, permissiveness and dark corners in which corruption hides and thrives. The NIA should lend its voice to supporting this bill.
Equally important is the work on the ground that you the graduates will be doing as integrity officers. It is a collective effort that is needed to fight corruption. Integrity must become a way of life and an integral part in changing the mind-set of people. The change will happen when we are able to identify those who are corrupt, when we are able to shine the light to identify those who are corrupt, but the change will be more sustainable when you as the integrity officer almost akin to the Justice of the Peace in the community – the District Constable for integrity. When you stand up to your friend and say to him, “you see that drain that you get to clean that you only do half of the work and take all of the money, that is wrong. When you only clean half of the drain and take all of the money when the rain comes, it’s my house and my neighbour house and your house that’s going to get flood out.”
Until we have representatives who are willing to stand up and say, ‘Look my friend, with corruption you may benefit but everyone else lose and if everyone else lose what you gain from corruption is going to be taken away by crime. Somebody is going to see that you have and hold you up and take it from you so let’s not go down that route.” This conversation needs to be happening right across Jamaica.
So again, I want to commend NIA, CVSS and the support from the USAID in bringing the anti-corruption measure down to the grassroots to make it a more sustainable movement to support and complement the legislative and prosecutorial actions that the government is taking. This is really a profound change in the strategy being employed to stimulate a new culture of accountability, transparency and anti-corruption in Jamaica; again, my commendations.
As we endeavour to ensure that more people are empowered and strong in doing the right thing we are also improving our enforcement practices as well as the efficiency of the public sector. Whenever I get the opportunity to address the subject of corruption I always point out to professor Munroe – and I cannot help but say Professor Munroe because he was my professor at the University of the West Indies.
The flip side of corruption is inefficiency. Wherever there is a weak overly bureaucratic, hierarchical system, there will be corruption. Corruption thrives in inefficiency so yes we have to tackle corruption by legislation, by investigation, prosecution, naming and shaming and we have to tackle it on the ground by having people who will stand up and say “no it is wrong to change the oral standards of the country”.
We must also tackle corruption by ensuring that the enforcement agencies, the regulatory agencies, the agencies that deal with permitting that those agencies are efficient in what they are doing, because wherever there is inefficiency it means the cost of transaction is higher than it should be. It means you pay more for what you should get; it means the price is higher and therefore a strategy of the government though not seeing as directly a strategy to deal with corruption is to increase the efficiency of the public sector.
We have been doing that with various actions in terms of reviewing the public sector, looking at mergers, looking at right sizing. We have been taking various actions to ensure that the public sector is not an unfair and burdensome cost on the public and that will go a far way in reducing corruption particularly when we integrate technology into the public sector.
If you are able to get your permit or your licences without having to pay anyone for it means businesses can happen faster. However you still have to change the culture because the story is told – Dr Phillips you would remember this – there was a time when people would line up to get their passport and their birth certificate and it was a real horror. Long lines and a system evolved where people made a living out of holding spaces in the line, and people would pay so they would just come instead of waiting, take their space and get through.
When the system changed, created an Executive Agency and increased the efficiency, some people still came, willing to pay to stand up in a line when there was no line because while the system had changed, the culture had not changed. So by making the process of getting your passport and getting your birth certificate and other documents more efficient we removed the need for any corrupt activity but unless you also change the culture that supports the activity then it is highly likely that it will continue.
I want to end at that point and let me say that we will be successful. Jamaica will conquer the monster of corruption. We will secure for the poor, the hardworking, the industrious Jamaican what they rightfully deserve instead of them being deprived by corrupt actors. Jamaica will overcome corruption and we will become a prosperous and progressive nation. It is God’s will.
I thank you.