What has been will be again; what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.
— King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 1:9
Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, a French critic, journalist and novelist of the 1800s, coined the phrase “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”. It is literally translated, “The more it changes, the more it’s the same thing.” It is from this French phrase we get our current well known English phrase, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Christian tradition teaches that God made man upright, but he has sought out many inventions (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Mankind was created morally good, but he used a key element of his God likeness, that is independent thought with the freedom of choice, to choose the way of corruption.
Corruption has been the problem of humanity from the beginning. The more self-interest and self-centeredness increased the more corruption multiplied in man’s dealings with each other.
Corruption and general wickedness on the Earth got so bad that it forced the hands of God to destroy the world of Noah’s time and make a fresh start. It appears that God’s approach to intolerable entrenched corruption, crime, violence, and unabated wickedness is to apply the Fresh Start approach.
He did it at the Tower of Babel by confusing the language so they could not understand each other. This forced them to scatter all over the Earth and make a fresh start. Self-interest took dominance over the principle of obedience. They were told to increase in number and fill the Earth (Genesis 9:1), they chose to settle and build Babel instead. Corruption, crime and violence, and wickedness have always been an act of choice. It is this choice of corrupt practices that has invariably resulted in the downfall of nations.
History is replete with this reality. We just have to trace the course of the great empires of the world: Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, Grecian, Roman, the British and others. When you drill down you find corruption as a primary causative factor. Civilisation seems not to have learned the lessons of the past, so we keep repeating the same mistakes.
Corruption had so filled the Earth with every form of evil and wickedness that in the last 400 years prior to the birth of Jesus, the first Christmas, history records it as the years of silence when God ceased to communicate much with his people, the Jews. The situation was so evil that it was best described as darkness on the Earth. Division and strife in the religious priesthood with pagan influence trampled on morality. The prevailing corrupt situation set the tone for the need of a saviour to deliver mankind from enslavement and give them a fresh start. It seems the most effective way to defeat corruption is God’s recommended fresh start approach.
The birth of Jesus was to give mankind a fresh start; God’s answer to man’s dilemma. The coming of Jesus the Christ provided man with the option to now make another choice. He could either choose to continue the way of corruption or choose the path of honesty. Corruption or honesty is a choice to be made in human responsibility.
The centrality of the Christmas message is about the fresh start option which is particularly needed in an environment of entrenched corruption. The timing is right for this matter to be placed on the table given that Jamaica is numbered among the top most corrupt nations, albeit we have made some improvements. Given the season we are celebrating and new year coming in a matter of days I pray we make the most of it.
The historical fact of corruption is a present reality, and the historical fact of Jesus’s birth to give a fresh start to both personal and national life is also a present reality. The choice remains ours to make. We believe firmly that the birth of Jesus was Emmanuel; the God of creation coming to dwell with us in human form.
He offered himself as the saviour of all mankind, but it was their choice to believe or reject him. His expressed purpose was to break the power of corruption and wickedness and bring peace on Earth and goodwill to all men. He came to establish through the renewed thinking of men who fear God; justice, equity, truth, love, and care for the poor and oppressed.
The saviour is still present and available in our world. The transformation of many, many lives is ongoing. Each time someone responds positively to the person and work of Jesus he or she embraces the opportunity for a fresh start. This enables them to conquer corruption and make positive contributions to society.
The temptation of corruption has always been and will always be with us. What we must continue to do is to take the necessary steps to control it and minimise our appetite for it. As a society we have made tremendous strides in the right direction, especially in government. I do not believe we are anywhere near the level of corruption that existed 20 or 30 years ago. This is so, thanks to the work of the many activists and civil society groups who have nudged and pushed for transparency and accountability.
Most of the needed accountability mechanisms necessary are now in place so much so that we now run the risk of becoming overregulated and that could stifle development. The fear factor of corruption is so high that we now must be careful of being paranoid. The type of things we are now highlighting pales in comparison to the levels and type of corruption we have known.
In the fight against corruption there is a side that is not being given sufficient attention, yet is very important. That side to which I refer is the minimising of the need for individuals to act corruptly or for others to attempt to corrupt them.
Let’s look at some areas for consideration: Where fees are too high there is the tendency for corruption to rear its ugly head. For example, Customs fees in many cases are exorbitant. Perhaps if they were lower, less people would try to circumvent paying them and we would likely collect more in the long run. High traffic fines can also encourage police corruption. Having to pay a cess of $5,000 to a corrupt police officer to not write a $25,000 ticket is, for a person with a corrupt mindset, a blessing from God. That’s the current reality.
The corrupt mindset culture of our people must be addressed by promoting deliberate values training in schools and society; overcoming the societal belief that ‘everyone is doing it’ or ‘it is how the system works’. This way of thinking makes it accepted as the norm. Public education is key to combating this.
Low wages to certain critical service sectors can foster corruption. One such sector is the police. If they are not well compensated they are more prone to yield to the pressures that can come their way. Resisting corruption calls for high levels of integrity that only comes with strong moral convictions that forms one’s belief system. Not many in our world are grown in an environment that naturally makes this happen; hence, other factors and good system with checks and balances are necessary to help to keep people honest.
Another grouping that is often not sufficiently and fairly discussed is politicians and civil servants. They should be well taken care of to decrease the temptation. Surely it is not beyond us to find a formula that works well for them. They put out a lot, at great cost, and they carry huge responsibility for large sums in contracts. Those who genuinely make a choice to serve country, instead of self, ought to be applauded and properly remunerated. They should not be at a major disadvantage just because they chose to serve in government rather than private sector.
Those who choose to give themselves in genuine service to people and nation ought to be adequately rewarded. It is true that they are serving sacrificially by choice, but every effort should be made to ensure that their remuneration is enough to defuse the desire to engage corruption in order to make ends meet.
Jakob de Haan, Erik Dietzenbacher and Văn Hà Le, in a June 2013 study, posited that: “Higher government wages may reduce corruption.” They contended that: “Theoretical studies such as Van Rijckeghem and Weder (2001) and UlHaque and Sahay (1996), among others, argue that higher government wages reduce corruption. Higher government wages will raise the cost of job loss due to corruption and make government employees feel that they are being ‘fairly’ treated…”
This is a seminal study and one that should help direct our decision-making in government, private sector, and elsewhere. Some moralists may tend to think that “the heart is deceitful and, above all things, desperately wicked”. Therefore whether or not you pay a man highly, he will always be corrupt. Research does not seem to support this.
That is not to say that corruption is not a moral issue. Those in sensitive positions prone to corruption should not just have salaries that make them less prone to participate in corruption. But they should also undergo training annually that strengthens their moral resolve to be free of corruption.
We call on our new-era Government to give our inner cities a fresh start. Let’s ensure that our youth are no longer marginalised. Let’s increase the drive for more of our people, especially the poor, to be able to own land, and give them an accelerated process to gain titles for the land.
As we celebrate this season of commemorating the life and work of Jesus who is called the Christ, let’s all make the effort to embrace the opportunity for a fresh start in our lives. As a nation, let’s conduct a self-examination of our systems and structures and, where we see opportunity, let’s seize it to break free of our past and make a fresh start.
Copyright © 2018 by Rev Dr. Al Miller.