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Stupid noises vs concerns of corruption

There is corruption in this country, but we hide behind it because this country thrives on secrecy. 

–– University of the West Indies political scientist Cynthia Barrow-Giles.

Let us make it clear from the outset that the scale and types of corruption in certain African, Asian, South and Central American and European countries would leave Barbadians fainting from dizziness just thinking about them.

Last year alone, China punished almost 300,000 officials for graft as President Xi Jinping continued to wage a high-profile war against corruption. The punished were more than
the entire population of Barbados.

China’s top discipline watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which released the figures, seldom goes into details about the corrupt practices the officials engage in, but reports of allegations of bribery and abuse of power among officials are not uncommon in China.

Therefore, the corruption Ms Barrow-Giles referred to during a panel discussion recently is not on the same scale as China’s, for example.

But we cannot say with any degree of certainty that it is not on par with that of billionaire Iranian businessman Babak Zanjani, who has been sentenced to death for withholding billions
in oil revenue channelled through his companies.

We are not suggesting that anyone here has access to billions of dollars that somehow ends up in pockets other than the ones for which it was intended. But who is to say taxpayers’ moneys are not used inappropriately?

Because, make no mistake about it, graft happens here. How rampant we do not know, since, unlike China, we do not have an agency to maintain discipline in this regard. The Auditor General tells us of waste, but no action is ever taken based on these reports.

So, in the absence of tangible evidence, we will look at one issue that no less a person than Prime Minister Freundel Stuart has confirmed –– vote buying.

According to Mr Stuart, “some” people sold their votes in the 2013 general election.
In other words, the political class bought votes in order to win an election. In vowing to stamp it out, Mr Stuart described it as an “ugly practice which digs at the roots of democratic structures”.

The Prime Minister was not alone in expressing concern about this “ugly” practice. His top legal adviser Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite made similar observations. Therefore, when with all the confidence of a magician at a circus Mr Brathwaite played down Ms Barrow-Giles’ claim, it left people amused –– and bemused.

Ms Barrow-Giles referenced the Prime Minister during her contribution to the discussion on whether Barbados should become a republic, and called for action to stop vote buying.

And she was not the first to raise the issue. Earlier last year, prominent businessmen Andy Armstrong and Andrew Bynoe, apparently fed up of waiting for the promised investigation, sought to heighten awareness about the issue.

They said at the time that it remained a concern for many people, a lot of whom were afraid to speak out.

“It is surprising that it hasn’t yet been addressed at the level that it can make a difference,” Mr Bynoe said then, “that level being within Parliament.”

Like his boss, Mr Brathwaite spoke against vote buying. It would seem that very much like his boss any discussion on anything that they deem unimportant is immediately transformed into noise.

When the trade unions agitated last year on behalf of their members, Mr Stuart said it was just noise; when the Opposition and other interested persons called on the Prime Minister to address issues of national concern, it became incoherent noise; and now that the issue of corruption is raised, the Attorney General thinks it is stupid noise.

With all of these noises it would be no surprise if it emerged that they are not thinking clearly. Therefore, when Mr Brathwaite explained that the DLP administration did not keep its campaign promise to introduce anti-corruption legislation within the first 100 days of assuming office in 2008 because corruption is not a major issue here, and it is much too costly, we are tempted to excuse him because the “stupid noises” prevent him from thinking clearly.

After all, the DLP made corruption a major campaign issue leading up to the 2008 poll. Now, nearly 3,300 days later it has dawned on the Attorney General that corruption is not a major issue.

However, it gets even murkier as we read through Mr Brathwaite’s explanation.

“At a time when you are talking about cutting back on expenses, etcetera, it just didn’t seem to be priority to create a whole new department to deal with an issue that, when one looks at our reports, etcetera, you would see that corruption is not a significant issue in Barbados,” he told Barbados TODAY.

“And the question really was: do we really need to spend the money on this department at this point in time? That is really what it came down to, I think.”

It is a hubristic position –– but one that is shocking nonetheless.

If Government has no interest in enacting anti-corruption legislation because it is not a priority and it will be costly, will the Attorney General explain why the administration saw it
as a priority to spend a yet to be disclosed sum of money to fingerprint Barbadians and everyone entering and leaving the country?

Is this an urgency, or have our priorities been flipped upside down?

The Attorney General said he was a practical man and “you got to be practical about these things”. So let’s offer a practical suggestion: expand the role of  the anti-money laundering unit, adding anti-corruption to its duties; give it the independence and resources to perform its functions and you might be surprised –– or maybe not –– at what it might discover.

Some of it might embarrass the administration, but it would be for the good of our democratic structures.

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