Thu | Jul 9, 2020

Fraud, bribery, theft… Commonwealth official predicts corruption spike amid COVID-19

Published:Wednesday | June 10, 2020 | 12:00 AM
Scotland: Illicit financial flows cost developing countries about US$1.26 trillion annually.

Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland has warned that corruption is set to increase as countries in the region seek to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We can expect, fraud, bribery, theft, and other criminal practices will rise as people seek to exploit this terrible situation for their own immoral gain," she declared during a conference hosted by the Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commission and Anti Corruption Bodies on Wednesday.

Scotland noted that much like COVID-19, the 'corruption virus' strikes with no regard for borders, race, politics or religion, citing the current demands in the health sector as one of several factors that has created an atmosphere for corruption to thrive.

"All of these create an environment which is ripe for embezzlement, false claims, kickback and other forms of corruption that undermine efforts to defeat this deadly virus," she told the heads of anti-corruption agencies, law enforcement officials, government ministers and members of the judiciary across the region.

The conference was chaired by Dirk Harrison, the recently retired acting director of corruption prosecution at Jamaica’s Integrity Commission.

Harrison, who is a former contractor general in Jamaica, is currently the chairperson for the Commonwealth Caribbean integrity association, which seeks to help member states develop and adopt measures and strategies to combat corruption and improve good governance.

According to Scotland, illicit financial flows cost developing countries about US$1.26 trillion annually.

"This is enough money to lift above the poverty threshold the 1.4 billion people who get by on less than US$1.25 a day and to keep them there for at least six years," she said.

Scotland said every $100 million lost to corruption could fund full immunisation for four million children or provide water connections for some 250,000 households.

Chief technical director of the Financial Investigation Division Selvin Haye, believes financial investigation is the key to attacking corruption, but concedes that this process comes with its challenges.

"It is an easy thing to say that we are going to take away the assets of corrupt officials, it is much more difficult, however, to find those assets," he said.

Haye, who is a former deputy commissioner of police, believes collaboration is one of the best ways to fight corruption.

He pointed to the recently concluded $400-million Manchester Municipal Corporation fraud case, as evidence that corruption can be fought.

Five of the seven defendants in that case were found guilty of fraud charges.

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