In 2016, the Economist Intelligence Unit rated Jamaica as a “flawed democracy,” and since then has struggled to lose that title. This is mainly due to the rising corruption levels facing the country’s institutions and overall government. According to the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index, Jamaica has improved 17 spots in the world corruption rankings, now ranking as the 70th least corrupt country out of the 180 polled. Jamaica received a score of 44, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. The effects of this drive poverty and crime in what is known as one of the poorest and most dangerous countries in the Americas.
According to the 2017 Global Corruption Barometer, 51% of Jamaicans believed that most or all the police were corrupt, with a further 37% believes that most (or all) of their representatives in Parliament were corrupt. This diminishes Jamaicans’ quality of life by redirecting vital funding away from critical infrastructure and into private pockets, which results in an underfunded and underperforming government. These so-called private pockets are mainly run by gangs who use bribery and violence to mobilize voters in their constituencies. The gangs are rewarded with the spoils of power, which result in “dons” (gang leaders) being able to hand out housing and employment contracts. When opposing political leaders counter with their own gangs in their own constituencies, chronic violence erupts. This is reoccurring mainly during election seasons.
Corruption is detrimental in Jamaica because it discourages participation within the legal framework of society. Therefore, many Jamaicans turn to extralegal groups for protection and livelihood. In Jamaica’s last recorded election in 2016, it was the first-time voter turnout in a contested general election fell below the fifty percent mark at 47.7%. It is important to note that Jamaica declared universal adult suffrage in 1944. Therefore, this was the lowest recorded voter turnout in a general parliamentary election in 74 years.
Most political corruption in Jamaica occurs in garrisons. A political garrison is an area where at least 90% of the eligible votes are cast for either the People’s National Party or the Jamaica Labour Party. Those votes are usually secured by ways of coercion, intimidation, or most popularly: bribery. Political garrisons in Jamaica are led by criminals that are usually aligned with political leaders from the People’s National Party or the Jamaica Labour Party. This collusion results in skewed voter turnouts, as well as a voting majority that is being swayed to vote a certain way through unlawful means.
Gangs operate comfortably in these garrisons. Kingston’s insular garrison communities remain the epicenter of most violence and serve as safe havens for gangs. Gangs are not only rewarded with power through employment and housing contracts, but eventually they have moved into international drug trafficking—a common occurrence with post-colonial island states in the Americas. Jamaica is a transit point for cocaine shipped from Colombia to markets in the United States, and much of the island’s violence is the result of warfare between drug gangs.
While political corruption is still rampant in Jamaica, there are positive signs showing that the government has begun to take an interest in lessening the amount of corruption within political garrisons, and has acknowledged that sustained economic growth is impossible without combating corruption. In 2017, the Jamaican Senate passed The Integrity Commission Bill, which was an important step in the right direction. The bill sets in motion the establishment of an independent anti-corruption unit tasked with uncovering and prosecuting corruption in Jamaica. Since 2017, government bodies continue to pursue corruption investigations, with most cases frequently ending in convictions. Freedom House notes that a key development in August was the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) publishing a report denying any wrongdoing over its role in a 2010 raid in Kingston that led to the deaths of over 70 people. The JCF report stood in contrast to the findings of a separate investigation released in 2016, which found that the raid’s “execution by some members of the security forces was disproportionate, unjustified, and unjustifiable.”
The Jamaican government is working on means to reduce corruption in the country. Not only that, but everyday Jamaicans are doing their best to combat corruption within their communities. 73% percent of the population believe in their own ability to fight corruption and make a difference. Transparency International gives six suggestions for those trying to take up the fight against corruption.
- Say no to paying bribes.
- Report incidents of corruption to the authorities. When there are no trustworthy authorities, report the incident to Transparency International’s Advocacy and Legal Advice Centers (located in over 90 countries).
- Join an Anti-Corruption organization, such as the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption.
- Take part in a peaceful protest.
- Pay more to buy goods and services from a corruption-free company.
- Spread the word about corruption through social media.
The violence in Jamaica can be classified as an anomaly by some political scientists in the sense that it is not a failing democracy. While corruption streamlines throughout the entire island state, by global standards Jamaica has achieved a robust democracy. Government leaders change at the national level regularly and fairly smoothly, and if Jamaicans continue to diminish corruption in their communities, the positive signs show considerable growth in years to come.
Photo by Michael Kamber, New York Times.