Corruption is nothing new to political spheres around the world. In Jamaica, corruption within the government is pervasive and entrenched in Jamaican society. Jamaican politics is overrun with corruption and this is common knowledge among Jamaican voters. This corruption has led to a gross increase in government mistrust, poverty, gang violence, and is an overall detriment to Jamaica’s reputation as a peaceful paradise. The government has consistently used forceful tactics in an effort to gain votes; and wins elections because of these illegal acts. Corruption in the Jamaican government is a direct threat to democracy and the effects are results of democratic erosion.
Government corruption is widely understood in the minds of Jamaican voters. According to an article published in The Gleaner, a popular Jamaican newspaper, surveys “constantly show that upwards of 70% of Jamaicans believe they live in a corrupt country” (Gleaner, 2020). Corruption cripples democratic thinking, and instills a level of fear in citizens who wish to exercise democratic participation. This was exemplified perfectly in Jamaica’s most recent election, as it had one of the lowest voter turnouts in Jamaican history at 37% (BBC 2020). Jamaican citizens being privy to the corruption within government, feel helpless in the effort to combat it. This results in lower voter turnouts, as many citizens decide not to vote. This fear to express political opinion contributes to the notion of Jamaica as a “flawed democracy”, a rating given to the nation by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2016. Far before Jamaica received this title, there were already multiple chinks in the armor of democracy. In May 2010, former Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding was referred to as a “criminal affiliate” of Christopher Coke; a hunted drug lord that had evaded police capture with the assistance of Golding while he was in office. However, their relationship was far from one-sided, as “ Golding’s Jamaican Labor Party (JLP) was voted into power through “Coke’s murderous and strong-arm tactics” (Esposito, Schone, Martinez 2010).
Corruption is not only prevalent in the government, but in the police department as well. This corruption has become the catalyst for a surge in gang related violence, with 80% of illegal activity in Jamaica being gang related. Due to the lack of trust in the police force, Jamaican citizens turn to local gangs for protection and monetary aid. Citizens of poverty-ridden towns in Jamaica share the same sentiment, that the government fails to address their needs and are apathetic towards their struggle. This enables them to look to local gangs for help; and when this happens, gang members oblige. The leaders of these gangs, the “dons” provide social welfare services such as: school supplies, food, community festivities, and in some instances housing (Lumsden, 2016). These gangs that citizens are looking to are the same gangs government officials look to in order to garner votes and local support. Citizens will go to political representatives to receive help and will be denied, but government officials are consistently paying large sums of money to gangs in exchange for a mutually beneficial relationship. Government officials colluding with gang members is corruption in one of its most detrimental forms, as it allows for both a surge in violence and democratic instability. The use of gangs to gain votes has also caused polarization between the two political parties in Jamaica. The two main parties within the country are The Jamaican Labor Party and the People’s National Party, with few differing political parties able to gain any traction in the political world. Although anti-corruption agencies have been started in Jamaica, these groups only work to expose corruption rather than prosecute it. Seeing as how corruption in government is nothing new to the Jamaican people, these agencies are hardly effective.
Corruption is destructive in Jamaica, as it dissuades people from participating in society’s legal framework. As a result, many Jamaicans turn to illegal organizations for safety and survival. Depending on gang members for community aid while also knowing that your government relies on those same gangs for their personal gain is no way to live. However, it is the reality in Jamaica. I think that if a multi-faceted approach is not taken against corruption it will never stop. Jamaica needs to develop a plan that prosecutes corruption as opposed to only investigating it. If not, there will continue to be panic in paradise.
Lumsden, Andrew. 2019. “Black, Green, Gold and Too Much Red: Jamaica’s Struggle with Gang Violence.” COHA. https://www.coha.org/black-green-gold-and-too-much-red-jamaicas-struggle-with-gang-violence/ (March 29, 2022).
Esposito, Richard, Mark Schone, and Luis Martinez. “U.S. Report: Jamaican Prime Minister Is ‘Known Criminal Affiliate’ Of Hunted Drug Lord.” ABC News. https://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/jamaica-christopher-dudus-coke-escaped-security-forces-assault/story?id=10737428 (March 29, 2022).
“Editorial: Corruption Weakens the Economy, Threatens Democracy.” 2020. Commentary | Jamaica Gleaner. https://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/commentary/20200709/editorial-corruption-weakens-economy-threatens-democracy (March 29, 2022).
“Jamaica Election: Andrew Holness’ JLP Re-Elected amid Rise in Covid-19 Cases.” 2020. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-53997063 (March 29, 2022).