Sun | Jan 24, 2021

Voters not moved by corruption, say top pollsters - Johnson, Anderson say J’cans see it as a way of life

Published:Sunday | July 5, 2020 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue - Senior Gleaner Writer
Don Anderson
Bill Johnson
Supporters of both major political parties having a grand time in St Thomas on election day in 2011.

Corruption has not featured as a big-ticket item in past general elections and is unlikely to be the factor tipping the scales in one party or another’s favour this time around, the island’s two main pollsters, Don Anderson and Bill Johnson, have told The Sunday Gleaner.

Last week, the pollsters had strikingly similar views as they spoke with our news team in separate interviews. The consensus? No amount of howls of corruption and finger-pointing from an opposition is likely to win it any favours with the electorate. Nor would voters turn their backs on an administration for such a perception.

“I really don’t think corruption impacts the way people vote. There is empirical data from my polling over the years to show that scandals don’t really move the electorate that much, if at all. There are about four or five events we tracked some years ago and sought responses and people were mostly indifferent,” said 39-year polling veteran Don Anderson.

Since then, despite several other alleged acts of corruption coming to light, the electorate remains unmoved, according to Anderson.

“The data that we have via polls on how persons view corruption is that persons turn a blind eye because it is a way of life in Jamaica. We have, again, data which suggest that it is not a big deal because nobody ever gets caught or punished,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

“They don’t see the implications of corrupt action and how it impacts life in general. What it does, it keeps others away who may have a contribution to the political process, because they do not want the process to taint them, but there are some who have proven that you do not have to be tainted by the process,” added Anderson.

“So they stay away, but they will not vote for or against any one party despite the corruption perception,” he posits.

Anderson believes it would not hurt if the narrative connects the dots for the population, allowing them to see how much the country suffers from the impact of corruption.

Jamaica is the 74th least corrupt nation out of 180 countries, according to the 2019 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) reported by Transparency International.

Engulfed in Scandals

Successive administrations have repeatedly expressed grand plans to cripple corruption, only to be engulfed in scandals of their own.

“Nobody sees anybody being punished for corruption. Removing somebody from a position is one thing, but doing the time for a crime, nobody sees that happening to anyone. So they (voters) don’t view corruption as a serious enough negative to determine whether or not they go out to vote,” said Anderson.

“One would have to be totally and blatantly corrupt for somebody to say that they are not going to vote for an individual. It has become a way of life,” he stated.

Fellow pollster Bill Johnson agreed that corruption was not moving the needle for electors.

“From my experience over the last 20 years, corruption makes very little impact. It’s one of these things where the average person says, ‘Well, both parties do it’, and it sometimes rises up a little bit, like about a year ago with the allegations surrounding the former minister of education and the Caribbean Maritime University and the scandal at Petrojam,” he told The Sunday Gleaner.

Johnson said supporters of both parties frequently egged each other with accusations in their quest to defend their parties.

“They defend their scandals by pointing fingers at corrupt acts by another administration,” he said. “In Jamaica, people say, ‘Everybody does it. So what?’ The average person sees it as a way of life. I believe many have given up on having a corrupt-free society.”

He pointed out that while supporters of both major political parties were aware of some of the most damning allegations against members of their parties, it had not stopped them from giving the party their full backing.

Johnson said Prime Minister Andrew Holness is “perceived as acting quickly on issues of corruption”.

“He certainly gives the impression that he is doing something,” the pollster said.

Hours after naming his Cabinet in 2016, the prime minister said there would be a zero-tolerance approach to corruption.

“I should not have the need to remind ministers that they must at all times conduct the affairs of the country with the highest level of integrity, but it is important that I repeat it. Corruption will not be tolerated in this Government,” he said then.

Since then, he has spent much time putting out fires, with various state agencies battling allegations of facilitating corrupt acts.

Ministers Dumped

Last year, Holness dismissed Ruel Reid as education minister, following reports of a damning state of affairs at that ministry, including alleged acts of impropriety at the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), for which Reid is now facing criminal charges.

Energy Minister Andrew Wheatley was also booted from the Cabinet after a raft of troubling reports of mismanagement at a number of agencies under that ministry, including Petrojam.

Two weeks ago, Holness reassigned Daryl Vaz after howls of condemnation over a conflict of interest in his attempts to secure government lands at peppercorn rental for a cabin in the Blue Mountains.

On Friday, Jamaica Labour Party councillors called on St Ann’s Bay Mayor Michael Belnavis to step down over questionable actions and in light of a probe now under way by the Integrity Commission.

Holness wrested power from the Portia Simpson Miller administration in 2016, which was still beset by the scandal sparked by a $31-million donation by Dutch oil company Trafigura Beheer to the People’s National Party (PNP), a matter which ended up in the courts. The company had an oil-lifting contract with the Government.

PNP’s then General Secretary Colin Campbell, who was the minister of information and development, was implicated in the matter and removed from the Simpson Miller Cabinet.

The party was also scarred by reports of cronyism and nepotism by then Lucea Mayor Shernette Haughton.