Fri | Aug 7, 2020

Alfred Dawes | The politician’s dilemma

Published:Sunday | July 12, 2020 | 12:25 AM

Politics nice and election not even announce yet! One side listing out scandals and calling for the full force of the law to be brought against officials caught up in corruption scandals, the other leaking reports and producing a laundry list of scandals committed by the other side. There isn’t even a focus on denial; it is a race to see who can capture the most headlines with revelations of scandals.

It seems as if it is a foolish, childish game that no party can win, because their revelations will only prompt the other to produce more damning evidence in a vicious circle that exposes how corrupt each side really is.

So, if this hurts both political parties, why then do they pursue the mutually destructive mud-slinging? It is simply the situation that suits the politicians the best.

To understand why, we venture into the beautiful mind of John Nash.

Students of Game Theory would be familiar with the Nash Equilibrium. Simply put, it describes a situation where the parties would have too much to lose and not much to gain if they changed their strategy in engaging each other. It describes perfectly why we are stuck with corrupt politicians on both sides of the fence and despite either side calling out the other, they will never ever make the necessary changes to stamp out corruption for the benefit of the Jamaican people.

Huge disclaimer: I never studied economics in school, so I’ll leave the analysis of this theory to the experts who are well versed with the more popular Prisoner’s Dilemma.


This painful game consists of two players – the party in Government, and the party in Opposition. They both have corrupt players in their ranks. In fact, it is so institutionalised that one member of parliament recently said it was “unrealistic” to expect politicians not to benefit from the state resources over which they preside.

The two sides can fiercely defend their corrupt members and distract the public by ‘mouthing off’ about how corrupt the other side is, how hypocritical they are and listing out scandals as they do now.

Or they can cooperate with the anti-corruption bodies and law-enforcement agencies to bring those in their ranks who are guilty of corruption to justice and put in place stronger anti-corruption measures.

Obviously, the latter approach would be best for the people who they seek to serve. But the reason why we are stuck in the swamp, with nobody willing to drain it, is that the first scenario suits the politicians and their friends better. And as long as both sides agree to mouth off, they can continue to rape the country with impunity.


What obtains today is described in Box A. Both parties mouth off about the other being corrupt and that we need to get tough on corruption and each says their party is tougher on corruption, etc. The outcome is that both players are labelled corrupt as they seek to out-snitch each other.

However, nobody from either side goes to jail because neither will cooperate with law enforcement but only with each other. Both are therefore allowed to continue with corrupt practices.


In scenario B, the Government changes strategy and doesn’t circle the wagons around a corrupt party member. They go to jail. The Government is tainted by the jailing and is seen as more corrupt than the Opposition. That may cost them the election. Meanwhile, the Opposition is strengthened by the conviction of a member of the Government. They seem tougher on corruption and this may give them the momentum to win the next election.


Scenario C sees the Opposition being compliant with the law-enforcement agencies and lowering the shield covering their corrupt members. The opposition politicians go to jail for corruption. The Government is perceived as being tougher on corruption and less corrupt than the Opposition.

The Opposition is silenced and tainted by the jailing. They can no longer call out government corruption easily with that log in their eye. They may lose the election as a result of this defection from the equilibrium.


Scenario D is what the anti-corruption movement yearns for. Both political parties decide that they are going to do what is best for Jamaica and stop cooperating with each other. They cooperate with law enforcement and provide the evidence to send their corrupt politicians to jail for their crimes and strengthen the anti-corruption framework so it becomes difficult to get away with nepotism and corruption.

The result is that politicians and cronies on both sides go to jail for corruption. This is very bad for both political parties and friendships, especially where loyalty and favours are to be considered. It also then becomes extremely difficult to engage in corrupt practices because of the changes in the laws, so parties will not be able to finance campaigns through the funnelling of state resources into the coffers of their financiers.

This is the absolutely worst outcome in the game for both Government and Opposition.

The fact that the interests of the people are not represented in the Nash Equilibrium of The Politicians’ Dilemma means that we truly cannot win the war against corruption as long as this game is played with the current rules. We either turn over the gameboard and start from scratch or enough of us infiltrate the players, take over the game and defect to Scenario D. Until we reach that solution, we might as well sit back and enjoy the cass-cass.

Dr Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic and weight loss surgeon, and medical director of Windsor Wellness Centre & Carivia Medical Ltd.; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of the Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to and