Teenage

Injustice and unpunished corruption could stir social unrest, warns Munroe

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor-at-Large
South-Central Bureau
myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, July 19, 2019

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Anti-corruption campaigner Trevor Munroe says Jamaicans must insist that there is “one law for big and small”, and that no one is above the law, or risk the consequences of social unrest.

Speaking against what he suggested was rampant corruption in governance and the failure to hold anyone criminally accountable, Munroe told lay magistrates in Mandeville on Wednesday that most people believed 'justice' was meted out based on economic and social status.

“The surveys show that the majority of Jamaicans believe that the powerful and politically connected, on either side, go free, while those who are disadvantaged, disconnected, and have no linkages feel the full brunt of the law. That has to stop, because you and I know that the rule of law is the pillar of social order. And the deterioration in the confidence in the law is going to multiply the social disorder that we see...” he said.

Munroe, executive director of anti-corruption agency, National Integrity Action (NIA), was addressing the 26th annual general meeting of the Manchester Chapter of the Lay Magistrates Association of Jamaica. He argued that if corruption and perceived inequities in meting out justice are not put right “it is going to affect social order and contribute to social unrest”.

He cited estimates showing that $95.6 billion, about five per cent of Jamaica's Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and more than the combined budget for the Ministry of National Security and the Ministry of Justice, was being lost, “sucked away by corruption”, in Jamaica annually.

Recovering just half of that amount would have huge positive consequences for security and social services, he said.

Munroe called for “proper” compensation for those at the “front line” of the fight against corruption. Currently, a constable was receiving less than $1 million annually as basic pay, he said.

He referenced ongoing corruption sagas at agencies such as the oil refinery, Petrojam, and Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) to underline his arguments for the nation to take a strong, united stance against corruption.

Two Cabinet ministers — former Energy Minister Andrew Wheatley and former Education Minister Senator Ruel Reid — resigned from their jobs over the last year, following alleged misuse of funds, nepotism and cronyism at agencies under their watch.

But there has been widespread unease and complaints that investigators are yet to make an arrest.

Noting that offenders at the lower end of the scale, such as “ackee thieves”, routinely felt the full weight of the law, Munroe said, “We must ensure that we enforce the law, that we investigate, that we prosecute, and when the evidence justifies, that we convict and jail the powerful and the connected, whether at Petrojam, Caribbean Maritime University, past Cabinet ministers or present ... One law for all. That is the first thing.”

Also, he said, Jamaicans must insist that sanctions and punishment must be applied to parliamentarians if they break the law, as they are ones who make them.

Munroe lamented that parliamentarians found in breach of regulations regarding declaration, documentation, and certification of their sources of income, assets as well as liabilities were escaping without meaningful punishment or sanction.

“In November 2011 four of seven parliamentarians were brought before the court for breaching this law, convicted, and they were fined $10,000 each ....One week afterwards, a homeless person stole $340 worth of ackees from the governor general's residence and he got three months in jail,” Munroe recalled.

In addition to equitable justice for lawbreakers, Munroe argued that to reduce such corrupt practices as bribes, there should be adequate remuneration for public servants, including police constables, investigators in anti-crime and anti-corruption agencies, and extending to permanent secretaries. Public servants, he said, were “at the front line” in the fight against corruption and should be recognised and compensated as such.

“We have to insist that they be compensated as front line fighters and not forgotten,” Munroe said. It was unreasonable that a police constable “sworn to serve and for you to call on” was receiving less than $1 million per year in basic pay.

“An inspector of police should get more than $2 million basic, our chief prosecutor must get more than than $5 million per year,” Munroe said.

He said he was “astonished to hear that five commissioners in the Integrity Commission, who have been serving in that capacity for over a year and many months, have not received any emoluments at all in relation [to] that responsibility”.

Regarding parliamentary breaches of statutory declarations, Munroe noted that under the Integrity Commission Act two members of Parliament were cited for being under investigation by the Financial Investigations Unit of the Integrity Commission, but their names had been withheld.

“We don't even know their names. In previous years we knew who was reported ... Two members now being investigated and we don't know who they are... I have to say to you that is a step backwards which must be corrected,” Munroe said.

He also urged that the statutory declarations of the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition be summarised and gazetted as required by law.

“The purpose is to assure and to reassure the public that the head of the stream is clean; that those who make the law at the top are in compliance with the law, so we can follow their example. I have to say to you today that I insist, and I ask each of you that you insist, that this requirement of the legislation be gazetted as a matter of the greatest urgency.

“It cannot be that that aspect of the law is ignored...” Munroe said.

He noted that while the “intention was that we would start with the prime minister and leader of the Opposition, over a period of time each Member of parliament would be obligated to do the same. The law says that within the first two years — and we are now in the second year and that provision needs to be reviewed so it can be expanded to embrace all our representatives...”

Munroe recalled a cautionary note from a Justice Reform Task Force, headed by the late Professor Barry Chevannes and former Chief Justice Lensley Wolfe, that “The rule of law can in the end only be maintained if it rests on the absolute confidence and support of the people. The people must believe that the law will be applied without fear or favour to the strong and the weak alike.”

Noting that Jamaica was among the globe's top six nations in terms of freedom of speech and expression, Munroe urged Manchester lay magistrates to use formal media tools, including letters to the editor, radio talk shows, as well as social media to press for an end to corruption and injustice.

Just as Jamaicans had come together to pull back from the “precipice” and save their economy from total devastation, so they could save their country from corruption and its “evil twin” violent crime, Munroe said.


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