By Alexander Shaw, columnist
Corruption has no colour, class, creed or race.
Many believe it has been with us since independence, and has retarded and crippled development in JamDung.
It thrives primarily in the public sector, where the managerial skill and diligence needed to boost growth and productivity is often made redundant or overlooked as a result of nepotism.
The country is not paralysed by under-qualified individuals, but by corruption and – for want of a better word – ‘the eat-a-food mentality’.
The debate has been reignited now that Minister of Education Ruel Reid has resigned over allegations of corruption.
I must applaud the decisive and bold move by Prime Minister Andrew Holness in asking the Minister to recuse himself from such noble office, to allow for a rigorous assessment and audit of the organisation and its board.
It is my view that the education sector is the most unpoliced government sector, and this has provided a haven for ‘public extortion’ and illicit activities.
It was Minister Reid who referred to some school administrators and boards as extortionists because they failed to discontinue the tuition fee policy, arguing that the government’s budgetary allocation was woefully inadequate. Might I say, I now understand why he had attributed such dishonourable character to the leadership of some schools.
Nevertheless, until school administrators face the same rigour of public scrutiny and financial audit that other sectors endure, many will continue to believe they are at large to treat with public resources wantonly.
As a society, many of us are armed with knowledge of corrupt schemes but are afraid to bring them to light because the individuals involved are considered powerful and well aligned, causing us to cover in silence and deadbeat fear. But we have to start somewhere if we want to get anywhere.
I believe education has been first in time, and should first be purged of its impurities.
There are too many school boards of questionable character, not au fait with the social realities of the institutions they oversee. There are too many school administrators who are unable to command taxpayers’ resources efficiently and are providing nothing short of inept leadership. There are too many corrupt individuals ‘incarcerated’ in education, and we need to free them of their responsibilities.
When you enter an educational institution, without getting into a dialogue with a staff, you will discern whether management is performing its roles. But if not, why should non-performing educators remain in such a bedrock sector of the society? Is it because the Member of Parliament puts them there? Or is it because they are connected with a ‘topanaris’ at the Ministry of Education or in the Jamaica Teachers’ Association?
Education should not be a political wildcard. Like the Judicial arm of government, it should operate independent of political interferences.
If public educational institutions were being managed like their private counterparts, the innumeracy and illiteracy rates would be much lower in this country. The real challenge Jamaica has faced for decades is not a shortage of resources, but alacrity in leadership and management in even our schools.
Ridding ourselves of corruption is not that difficult, but our greatest challenge lies in our inability to see from a bipartisan perspective.
We are too quick to paint watchdogs and alarmist green and orange, losing sight of what is at stake. Not because one says progress or prosperity means one should defend the transgressions of that party in view of glaring corruption. It should not be. We are Jamaicans first. We should join forces and call unanimously for anyone seated corruptly in the lowest or highest of offices.
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