Last week, Transparency International published their 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index, an annual report that examines the extent of corruption in nearly 180 nations. Canada finds itself at #9 with a score of 82/100, while Jamaica fell 14 places since last year, now tied at #83 (39/100) with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Lesotho.

The report doesn’t mince words, pointing out the first sentence that no country achieved a perfect score, and quickly identifying that corruption and inequality go hand in hand. A poor score, or CPI, “signals prevalent bribery, lack of punishment for corruption, and public institutions that do not respond to citizens’ needs.” The organization warns that a CPI of less than 50 means “corruption is a serious problem”,  while another study (via the Institute for Economics and Peace) found that when a country’s score is under 40, it has reached a tipping point for the collapse of government institutions, instability, and a rise in internal violence.

With a score of 39/100, it goes without saying that corruption is an issue in Jamaica. Even if you are never asked by a traffic cop if you want to take a ‘left or right’ when dealing with a speeding ticket (right = ‘right’, i.e. take the ticket and pay the fine, left = ‘leave something’, i.e. give a little something to get out of the ticket), you can’t ignore the huge billboards at major intersections encouraging passers to report corruption. At a grander scale, bribery and corruption within government services is considered to be such a serious risk that it affects foreign investment potential.

Most importantly, corruption at any level and in any country has a direct impact on the well-being of citizens. José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International, articulates the critical importance of addressing the connection between corruption and inequality, saying, “in too many countries, people are deprived of their most basic needs and go to bed hungry every night because of corruption, while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyles with impunity.” This is felt viscerally throughout Jamaica.

It might go without saying, but so many daily problems must be traced back to broken systems that do not put people at the centre. When we are willing to accept that some human beings are ‘more worthy’ than others, we open the door to injustice, crime, hatred, and ruin. The problems I see on a daily basis in Jamaica -hunger, violence, sexual harassment, vandalism, pollution – are all connected, and all stem from systems that put one group of people’s needs ahead of another. Corruption is just one of the ways we perpetuate vulnerability.

During my SKWID training, we were asked to think of two examples of corruption: one from our own experiences and one from the news. The personal examples were accessible and familiar (“I paid a bribe to cross a border”, “I made other kids pay me candy to use my toys”, “I hired my friend even though they weren’t the most qualified”), while the examples from the news were outrageous and catastrophic (embezzlement of billions of dollars, the rigging of elections). We were then asked the question, “How do we decide where to draw the line?” The discussion began with an attempt to determine “who is harmed by the action?”, but we quickly came to the realization that, no matter what, someone is adversely impacted when the rules are bent. Any inequality simply perpetuates inequality.

There is no victim-less injustice. The CPI report makes it clear that the line must be drawn at zero tolerance for corruption. Otherwise, we are all at risk.

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