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Over now to you!

Imagine That“There are seven things that will destroy us: Wealth without work; Pleasure without conscience; Knowledge without character; Religion without sacrifice; Politics without principle; Science without humanity; Business without ethics.” – Mahatma Gandhi

This is my final column on the National Integrity System.  While I am pleased to say that there are no illiberal democracies in the region and governance is not “distressed”, much still needs to be done. Political accountability is critical.

There are myriad ways in which this can be done.  I have sought not only to provide readers with a host of such mechanisms, procedures and institutions but I have also raised questions over the past several months about the quality of the National Integrity System in the Caribbean generally and Barbados specifically.

It is useful again to remind readers of the view of former Attorney General of Barbados Sir David Simmons as he addressed a conference organized by Transparency International in Trinidad and Tobago in 2014.  Speaking to the issue of controlling corruption in the Caribbean, Sir David opined:

“…if there is the political will, a country can seek to control corruption by the enactment of appropriate legislation. Defeatist attitudes of laissez-faire and complacency are contrary to the public interest. “

I started this column on a personal note and I will end on a personal note. This was about my reflections; it was a column of my opinions informed by some of the writings of experts in the field and based on my assessment of the National Integrity System and best practice.

Consequently, the interpretation provided did not have to conform to that of anyone else. I accept this and it is healthy in a genuine democracy. Yet I have always strived to engage in objectivity in my political judgments.

There are those who engage in skilful apologies for politicians, others outrageously and unwisely condemn, but I have tried to maintain an objectivity and fair play even while couched in an obvious disdain for the trite and self-satisfaction which seem to be the trait of so many politicians, some academics, political commentators and businessmen too.

As I said, I am not a public academic – others say intellectual – who takes the opportunity to fire ammunition sometimes for partisan purposes. Nor do I intend to become one who appears to be gifted with the talent of reducing ideas to nice sounding snippets.  Like many others who have entered this public space, I hoped to start a conversation and I did not alter the course of my stated objectives because some may have wished it away.

I was deeply gratified by the persons who found time to read the column and to make useful comments. As Roy Morris said in his In the Public Interest piece on Wednesday April 27, 2016, “ . . . the positions that I take on issues are not predicated on whether or not you like me, or even if I like you. I don’t take such an approach because I am not a politician”.  Well said Roy! It was about doing what I thought was right.

Yes, writing this column was partly motivated by the unfortunate, absurd and unthinking comments of the Attorney General of Barbados. He was at it again recently with his folly on bail for an accused murderer without even so much as a ‘sockdolager’ on his side.

So obviously there was a personal dimension to my column. The fact is no one should ever doubt the capacity and resources of any academic.  Our major strengths are that we read, we engage in research, we consume, we digest, we debate, we are constantly criticized but we expect reasonableness.

Further, I have never relied on any politician for my sustenance and, like a truly independent, educated, fifty something year old woman who believes that there is a decidedly gendered and sexist approach to the treatment of issues and ideas, I had absolutely no doubt then, that the description of my views on corruption in Barbados as “stupid noises” was in part fuelled by the misogynism that abounds in Caribbean society. Late last week I changed my position following the comments on bail for murder accused by the Attorney General of Barbados.

The political class must be made to understand that political exhilaration and arrogance must always be tempered by the political reality that an electoral majority and popular support are ephemeral and very fickle. How many times have politicians and political parties been shocked by their electoral defeat even when the economy is doing well?

As someone said – and I really have forgotten who it is – “A mass of the populace may be at any given moment intensely alarmed about a decline in the economy, a financial crisis, or a foreign policy debacle; pervasive outrage or frustration among voters may result in disaster at the polls for the party in power.”

I can add to that a major corruption scandal. That is partly why the politician can ill afford to be offensive to the electorate especially under such circumstances.

Anyway, I enjoyed my time with you on the National Integrity System and I hope that as I took that journey that others joined in. I hope that I have made a contribution to the discourse on governance, corruption and our behaviours. If it impacted but one person, then my weeks of labour have not been for naught.

But I know that it has done more than that! I have read over the last few weeks numerous newspaper articles and online submissions by ordinary individuals about their personal experiences and many of them go right to the heart of misuse of office and therefore corruption.

From the need for integrity in public life legislation, support for the Auditor General, the engagement of civil society, reform of Elections Commissions, adoption of the office of Contractor General, the need for good corporate governance, the establishment of a Police Integrity Commission, implied reference to the civil service (this is one pillar that unfortunately I did not devote a column to) to constitutional, legal, judicial, social and financial accountability, I have tried to show how gaps in these and the absence of some, cause considerable strain to the National Integrity System and open the door to the real possibility of corruption.

We understand that the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government must check and balance each other. But even where this is done effectively, it cannot suffice. For, in addition, we need non-state institutions and actors to participate in a process that holds governmental institutions and actors to account.

Consequently, whether the political class appreciates it or not, it is the business of the media, the academy, civil society groups and other watchdog agencies or persons to engage in a checking of their behaviours. And that means that we do not regularly pat politicians on their back for doing a good job. For invariably they do not. But I do concede that some, (perhaps a tiny fraction) are genuinely concerned about the people and justice.

More than anything else, I hope that the reflection pieces have opened the eyes of those who were unaware of the varied forms of corruption and what we can all do in our respective spaces to limit its occurrence.

We think that it is laudable, for instance, to say that whatever we do, whatever public sector jobs are available, some must be reserved for persons from a particular ‘up and on’ secondary school. But it is not! It is cronyism and favouritism full stop! I can hear the collective howl!

Given the highly partisan nature of many Commonwealth Caribbean countries, clearly every effort must be made to ensure that persons in public life are protected from ‘unjustified and irreparable damage to their reputation’. So caution must be taken when crafting anti-corruption legislation. But persons in public life must never think and behave in a manner that suggests that they have been given immunity from scrutiny and criticism.

Almost 20 years after the Constitutional Review Commission of Barbados submitted its wide ranging report in which it recommended, for example, the establishment of an Integrity Commission, no such Commission is in place. So, in its absence, combined with other notable gaps in the National Integrity System, public officials may well continue to face ‘moral hazards’ engaging in corrupt activity without fear of significant adverse consequences.

Barbados remains one of a small minority of Caribbean countries where this Commission does not exist. We may not be marked by a “corruption eruption” but that is not the same as corruption is not a problem nor that our institutions are not in need of further strengthening. Every citizen has an equal responsibility and when we remain silent, we participate in a system that glorifies the incompetent and corrupt, we are part of the gaggle of those who publicly enable, and we become accomplices.

So again, many thanks and farewell! I now turn to what an academic ought never to neglect. I will leave you with two quotes, one which goes straight to what democracy is and my spirit of independence. “There, did you think to kill me? There’s no flesh or blood within this cloak to kill. There’s only an idea. Ideas are bulletproof. Farewell.”
– Alan Moore, V for Vendetta.

The second, because my column was intended to encourage debate. It’s funny to me given the source but . . . “I love argument, I love debate. I don’t expect anyone just to sit there and agree with me, that’s not their job”. – Margaret Thatcher.

I am done with the National Integrity System, and now leave it in your hands; the ordinary citizen. For it is not the business only of the academy to highlight issues of poor governance and governmental failure. This was about a system, irrespective of which party occupies governmental power.

Bye for now from the ‘stupid noise’ maker!

(Cynthia Barrow-Giles is senior lecturer in political science at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill)

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