Jamaica as a nation state, has, in my opinion, been fast losing its moral leadership position. While there may have been differences of opinion on this issue in recent years, there has been, within the last year, at least, a growing level of consciousness that this is indeed the case.
There are at least nine major and incontestable, developments which prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. These are:
- The April 2022 decision of the Government of Jamaica to put up a candidate (in the person of Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson-Smith) to compete for the non-vacant post of Commonwealth Secretary General,
- The October 2022 and October 2023 disclosure that the Prime Minister had not received certification for his 2021 statutory declarations,
- The Integrity Commission report of February 2023, which revealed that the Prime Minister had been referred for criminal / corruption prosecution,
- The May 2023 200 – 300% increase government granted to the political class which contrasted with 20% granted to public servants,
- The July 2023 Integrity Commission Report which showed that six lawmakers (apparently all from the Government side) were under investigation for illicit enrichment,
- The declaration by the Minister of Legal and Constitutional Affairs, September 2023, that the Government is considering extending the period for which it may delay the holding of General Elections (due to national emergencies) from six months to two years,
- The elevation of the wife of the Prime Minister, former Deputy Speaker, and Member of Parliament to the position of Speaker, in September 2023,
- The refusal of the new Speaker of the House, and wife of the Prime Minister, to make public the Opinion of the Attorney General on the issue of whether the Speaker is obliged to table reports received from the Auditor General and the Integrity Commission,
- The October 2023 decision of the Government of Jamaica to ‘miss’ the vote at the United Nations on a resolution calling on Israel to halt its massacre of innocent Palestinians in Gaza.
In each of these nine cases, the moral standing of the Government is called into serious question and these facts raise serious questions about the trustworthiness and moral integrity of the leadership of the country as well as cause irreparable damage to Jamaica’s reputation.
At the heart of the failings of the Government of Jamaica in each case is the issue of the quality of moral leadership. But some may ask rhetorically: “What does politics have to do with moral leadership?” Such a question reflects the notion that moral leadership and political leadership are separable and separate and thus those involved in the latter should not be detained by their foibles which others may highlight in relation to the former, since politics is about getting one’s way at all costs.
Such a position is both dangerous and shortsighted. In a deeply researched article titled “Taking stock of moral approaches to leadership: An integrative review of ethical, authentic, and servant leadership”, the authors Lemoine, Hartnell, and Leroy, argue that,
“Whereas scholars had previously argued that leadership could not or should not be concerned with issues of ethics and morality… the moral nature of leaders is now seen by many as not only necessary for the good of society but also essential for sustainable organizational success”.
The need to promote sustainable wellbeing of communities, societies, and organizations requires that leaders be morally aware and act with moral wisdom. Morally aware leaders, they contend, are ethically responsible, authentic in their actions and utterances, and committed to servanthood (service to others) as a way of being and relating. Thus, the moral leader seeks to exemplify in his or her conduct, the moral values of selflessness and integrity, and his or her decisions are guided by an inner moral compass informed by self-discipline, compassion, and the provision of inspiration to others to become their better selves.
In this three-part series, I will examine these ten areas in which the political leaders of Jamaica have shown significant moral failing, placing Jamaica at great reputational risk. In this first part, I will deal with items (1) to (3), in Part 2, items (4) to (6), and Part 3, items (7) to (9) and propose some paths forward.
Assessing Jamaica’s moral decline
Using the parameters of moral leadership outlined above, let us examine the five developments which I contend signal Jamaica’s decline in moral leadership.
(1) Competing for the post of Commonwealth Secretary General. I have written extensively on this issue, (See the article titled ‘A reflection on Jamaica’s entry into the race for Commonwealth Secretary-General: Examining issues of leadership readiness’, which was published on May 25, 2022, at https://leadershipreimagination.com/uncategorized/a-reflection-on-jamaicas-entry-into-the-race-for-commonwealth-secretary-general-examining-issues-of-leadership-readiness/
The major moral failing in this case was two-fold:
- Jamaica had previously given its word that it would support the incumbent Baroness Patricia Scotland to continue in the post. A moral leader’s word should be bankable and trustable, for if a leader’s word cannot be trusted it is literally impossible to build an authentic relationship with that leader.
- The evidence later emerged that Jamaica’s withdrawing of its word was based on a wish to do the bidding of the now disgraced former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson. Given the well-documented moral failing of Johnson in his role as Prime Minister, it is roundly disgraceful that Jamaica would have sought to be part of his scheme to unseat Scotland. Jamaica’s decision was as shocking at home as it was across CARICOM.
(2) The Prime Minister’s uncertified financial declarations
By law, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition in Jamaica must have their personal financial statements certified and gazetted. This requirement is enshrined in the Integrity Commission Act of 2017 which was passed by the Holness administration. At the time of its passage, Prime Minister Holness spoke about the importance of the requirements, and suggested that it should be extended to all parliamentarians. Thus, for the Prime Minister to be unable to obtain certification is a “black eye” on him personally, on the office he holds, and on the country’s reputation.
In May 2023, the Prime Minister stated that he was unaware of the reasons the Integrity Commission has not been able to certify his declarations. This can hardly be true. That the Prime Minister appears to be lying about the situation, worsens the damage the fact of non-certification has done.
This situation of the Prime Minister’s uncertified declarations “took a turn for the worse” (as Jamaicans say when describing how a person’s sick condition worsens) when in 2023, as expected by many, it was disclosed that his 2022 declarations were also uncertified. This meant that two consecutive years of declarations have unanswered questions. It must be emphasized that the main purpose of certification is to ensure that there is no evidence of illicit wealth in the declarant’s submission.
That questions remain about the “cleanness” of the Prime Minister’s wealth is a major, major problem and should be a bother to all who are concerned about integrity in government.
(3) The Prime Minister’s referral for corruption prosecution
The non-certification of two consecutive years of declaration becomes even more substantively problematic when it is juxtaposed to the fact that an Integrity Commission report of February 2023, found that the Prime Minister had engaged in corrupt activities and had been referred for corruption prosecution. The Director of Corruption Prosecution decided not to pursue the matter, not because she found that the case lacks merit, but because the actions giving rise to the referral occurred fifteen years earlier and a decision to prosecute could, she claimed, be construed as an abuse of process.
One may raise legitimate questions about the validity of the decision not to prosecute given that there is no statute of limitations on the alleged acts, which were never denied by either the Prime Minister or the Director of Corruption Prosecution.
The set of facts in this matter raises serious questions about the Prime Minister’s past as the current realities about the non-certification about his 2021 and 2022 declarations raise about his present.
Lemoine, G.J., Hartnell, C.A. & Leroy, H. (2019). Taking Stock of Moral Approaches to Leadership: An Integrative Review of Ethical, Authentic, and Servant Leadership.
Canute Thompson is Professor of Educational Policy, Planning and Leadership and the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, a social activist, and author of eight books and eighteen journal articles. His academic achievements include:
- Two Principal’s Awards in 2023 for research activity generating the most funds, and research activity with the most development impacts, serving as Project Director for a project executed by the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning.
- A 2022 Bronze place winner in the Independent Publisher Book Awards for his book, Education and Development: Policy Imperatives for Jamaica and the Caribbean.
- A 2021 finalist in The Vice-Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for all-round excellent performance in Outstanding Teaching, Outstanding Research Accomplishments, Outstanding Service to the University Community, Outstanding Public Service.
- A 2021 Principal’s Award for Most Outstanding Researcher.
- Two Principal’s Awards in 2020 for Most Outstanding Researcher and Best Publication for his book, Reimagining Educational Leadership in the Caribbean.