Do we really need a smoking gun?  

Eradicating corruption is impossible. Ferreting out and punishing the corrupt is not an easy task. But that is what an informed and active citizenry, adequate laws inclusive of laws on whistle blowing, a politically inclined leadership, and a discerning media must focus upon. To that end, we can control and limit the extent of corruption.

So last week I made a strong suggestion that there is a direct link between private money, especially “big money”, and political corruption. This week, I wish to further explore this theme with a focus on influence peddling. In an article entitled Fistful of Dollars: Lobbying and the Financial Crisis, three IMF economists pointed to the ‘revolving door’ between the private sector and government which, they argued, contributed to the perception that public officials are in bed with corporate interests.

The authors of the paper decried the practice of ex-officials who join lobbying firms or other businesses where they used their political influence to “wheedle” their former coworkers into serving the private sector interests often at the expense of the public good. Based on an assessment of the relationship between major US firms and public officials and the two major political parties, their conclusion was that the 2007-2008 global financial crisis is partly attributed to the lobbying by US banks.

Among the list of financial institutions coming in for criticism, were Countrywide Financial and Ameriquest, two of the largest mortgage lenders in the United States. According to the authors, these two companies spent nearly US$30 million on campaign contributions and lobbying between 2002 and 2006. They further concluded that the expressed purpose for this massive amount of spending was to defeat legislation that might have limited the ‘reckless’ spending that inexorably led to the housing crisis in the US and which culminated into the recent global financial crisis.

But that is just one form of the distortion of democracy. And in the absence of adequate laws on political money which emphasize full or partial disclosure, we have not nearly documented this practice or have verifiable proof that it is a critical issue. Nonetheless, we need to pay careful attention to the cozy relationship between government, political parties and business.

This is not to suggest that government should not solicit the input from the business community. Far from that! For business possesses tremendous expertise and knowledge important to government policy making. What is unacceptable and dangerous to governance based on integrity is the cozy political relationship that evolves between business and the public sector. For it is quite possible that the cozy relationship will lend itself to the transfer of public authority to private interest that will use State authority to advance their own interests often at the expense of the public.

Equally important is the contribution by foreign governments to campaign activities of political parties. And perhaps this is even more obnoxious than what is routinely provided by the local private sector and international business. Perhaps regionally and in Barbados specifically, we have not experienced a sufficiently large number of election-related scandals nor have we been exposed to too many skeletons sufficient enough to mobilize adequate public suspicion, scepticism, outrage and condemnation to force government to pass and enforce modest ethics legislation.

The continued absence of laws and the existence of some archaic laws promote a culture of silence which protects politicians from the outrage of citizens.

Until next time…

Source: (Cynthia Barrow-Giles is Senior Lecturer in Political Science at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies)

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