The George Brathwaite Column – Anti-corruption Mix and Fix
“The worst disease in the world today is corruption. And there is a cure: transparency” – (Bono).
Over the last two years, this writer has consistently made the point that sound public administration must embrace the ideals and mechanisms that facilitate good administrative and business practices. In recent years, increased allegations of corruption and maladministration were levelled against the Barbados Government and agencies functioning under its purview. Surely, the last Barbados government would have attracted a ‘fair share’ of the accusations although claims of corruption have always lingered in the shadows of preceding administrations. It is without making any hypocritical twists, that Barbadians must ponder on the information being pedalled into popular discourse.
Prior to the last general elections, Barbadians were often critical of the Freundel Stuart-led administration’s silence on important issues. People were uneasy with non-forthcoming information, and the way contracts were entered upon while taxpayers’ monies were spent or wasted during times of belt-tightening by local workers and households. Amidst rumours and speculation of corruption, it became self-evident that the then administration was more willing to operate in silence than shower the media and the governed with information. Who would dare forget the refusal by Stuart’s administration to disclose critical aspects of the mysterious Cahill Memorandum of Understanding (MOU)?
The Nation Newspaper’s editorial of 18 August 2015 iterated the popular sentiment that it was “hard to fathom the deafening silence of Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe, Prime Minister Freundel Stuart and the Government as a whole. It is as if they have determined that they will outlast objectors with their silence.” Withholding information from the public is a political tactic, but it does not encourage transparency. It is not conducive to reducing the risk of corruption. Indeed, lack of information or resorting to misinformation is indicative that things are not in reality what they are being made out to be. For example, a ludicrous statement made by Freundel Stuart in April 2017 asserted that Barbados remained “socially balanced, economically viable, environmentally sound” and is characterised by “good and transparent government.” That declaration was laughable given what was being hidden in plain sight – the shattered economy, society, and government.
It is inconceivable that going into the third decade of the 21st century, any responsible government would function stealthily when Barbados is already gripped in an age of openness. Naturally, the Government may try to control the flow of information; however, populations are demanding greater transparency and accountability. It is in this context that accurate and timely information can be the impetus for obtaining appreciative standards of good governance. Freedom of Information, Integrity in Public Life, and other legislative fixes inclusive of addressing procurement practices must be on the table. One anticipates that the Mottley-led administration will implement best practices, especially because Barbadians are vocal in their need to have corrected, the several wrongs that made daily living much harder during the final years of the last administration.
From the day to day running of government departments and statutory bodies, to the procurement of contractual services, Barbadians largely believed (and still do) that the provision of public services has been undermined by the corrupt practices of bribery and nepotism. The Auditor General identified gross discrepancies and the non-reporting of substantial sums of money. Also, and not for the first time, it was recommended that “audit issues, once presented, should be addressed in a timely manner, to ensure that such issues do not recur in subsequent years.” Generally, rumours suggested negligence or at worst, persons had a hand or two in the country’s cookie jar. Additionally, whisperings of injurious transactions costing the treasury millions appeared unrecoverable. Large sums remained untraceable without recourse to a forensic audit. Inside disclosures coupled with non-lodged leakages such as those emerging from the last Public Accounts Committee (PAC) all indicated the necessity for enhanced transparency and accountability. Barbadians were mesmerised that no public officer accepted responsibility nor was anyone sitting in ‘Dodds’ because of any misdeed.
Simple mistake, negligence, or mischiefs of the past reveal the urgency for which there must be the creation and implementation of new preventive and enforcement institutions. Anti-corruption measures inclusive of legislation, must be characterised by definitive strategies to scrutinise, prevent, expose, and prosecute those public officers involved in corruption. Barbadians are today pleading for a creature, formed with the requisite teeth, to safeguard the treasury. To put it differently, after the formal and informal reports of shenanigans through the Auditor General and the PAC, Barbadians are adamant about the need for a robust anti-corruption mix and fix, possessing the requisite teeth to safeguard the treasury.
All does not appear lost. The tenor and actions of the current Attorney General are encouraging. AG Marshall has succinctly stated that under the new administration, the authorities in carrying the fight against corruption in public office will “tear back the wall, tear back the vaults and look at the paperwork and see what was going wrong. It will take courage.” Certainly, this writer is pleased that the new administration is inclined to tear back the wall of secrecy while raising public awareness of the existence and deleterious consequences of corruption.
Surely, lingering ignorance in Barbados on corruption can easily empower the corrupt to become even more corruptible. It is to be noted that there is still the challenge of overcoming a deeply embedded culture of ‘harmless’ bribery and favour-granting niceties. Political Scientist Cynthia Barrow-Giles alluded to this phenomenon a few month ago in an article indicating that “acts of corruption perpetuated by ordinary citizens are equally mind boggling as the awarding of contracts and the many major political scandals that we read about.” Yet, in public glare, “bribery is just one form of corrupt behaviour perpetuated by ordinary citizens which is too often considered harmless.” Barrow-Giles concluded that “in one form or another most citizens can engage in ambivalent complicity in corruption.”
It is the previously concealed information about corruption and the malevolent practices that were not above board. The Attorney General has been forthright and relatively transparent in communicating prospects for implanting anti-corruption modes of operation in the rebuilding of Barbados’ reputation – economic and societal. AG Marshall insists that he intends “to strain every sinew … to the point of breaking,” while engaging “every agency of the Crown, either in Barbados or outside of Barbados … to bring the perpetrators of that dishonest activity to heel.” Chasing down corruption is necessary if the Barbados brand is to overcome the detriments and blacklisting that can occur, particularly with recent events that are
Barbados must be firm in its stance and resolute in its conviction for exposing the misdeeds of the past while formulating mechanisms that will help to prevent daily wastage, nepotism, and corruption. Therefore, the anti-corruption framework that is being shaped by the BLP, appears conducive to responding to the needs and expectations of citizens and residents in their capacities of individuals, interest groups and the society in general. Sharing accurate information, implementing whistle-blower legislation, and finding the best anti-corruption mix and fix can be effective for public administration and good governance in Barbados.
(Dr George C. Brathwaite is a political consultant and former lecturer in Political Science. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org).