By Jamaica Observer
Andrew Holness, based on his frequent declamations on the matter, has made fighting corruption a centrepiece of his premiership.
“I am confident that with the anti-corruption framework we have created and the institutions we have built to implement,” he told Jamaicans in his August Independence message, “Jamaica will see appreciable improvement not only in the perception of corruption, but in the deterrence of corruption and in the detection, investigation, and prosecution of corrupt acts.”
But the PM’s frequent claims of success often lag behind actual achievements, and the architecture he believes to be in place isn’t as robust as he thinks. In other words, there is still much for Mr Holness to do, and achieve, in institution-building if Jamaica is to collar the problem of graft, kickbacks, and abuse of fiduciary responsibility by public officials.
Take, for instance, the case of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Authority (MOCA), which has been around since 2014, starting as a quasi-autonomous arm of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), with the intention that it would evolve into a stand-alone policing and investigating body focused on serious crime, including corruption.
Indeed, legislation for MOCA’s formal establishment was passed by the legislature more than a year ago, and members of Mr Holness’ Government are often loud about the support it will get from the administration and in their expectations of its impact on disrupting organised crime.
In mid-April, as he spoke in Parliament’s sectoral debate, Horace Chang, the national security minister, pledged full “fiscal and legislative support from this Government” as it ensured that “corruption has no place in the new Jamaica”. Underlining the agency’s supposed elite status, Dr Chang said: “This is our FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigations).”
The problem, though, is that MOCA, though semi-autonomous, remains formally appended to the JCF, from which it is assigned officers. The problem was Section 42 of the law, which requires the minister to make regulations “for the proper administration of and giving effect to the provisions of this Act”.
Dr Chang, in that April speech, promised that the regulations would be tabled in Parliament by the end of that month. It didn’t happen.
Then, on May 27, addressing a conference of Canadian and Jamaican police polygraphists in Kingston, Dr Chang bellowed optimistically about the likely MOCA effect and the urgency with which it would be disengaged from the constabulary. “I expect that the regulations to make (MOCA) fully autonomous and operational as a statutory agency will be done in a couple of weeks.” That was more than five months ago.
MR HOLNESS’ GIFT
The delay in crafting the regulations and having them debated by Parliament has, understandably, raised questions, in some quarters, about the sincerity of the Government’s commitment to a sophisticated, independent, uncorrupted policing and investigative agency. With upwards of 80 per cent of Jamaicans believing their public officials to be corrupt and half of the country having low trust in its public leadership, this cynicism is likely to worsen with the recent, unexplained decision by the United States to rescind the travel visas of a senior member of the Government as well as the opposition party.
Mr Holness has the prime responsibility, and the enormous challenge, of rebuilding trust and confidence in Jamaican institutions, which will demand more than declarations about the robustness of the anti-corruption architecture.
He has to be seen to be doing real things to make it strong. Ensuring that MOCA is truly autonomous and free of potential of contamination from the JCF – whose reputation, unfortunately, is shot – can be a start, which is Mr Holness’ gift.