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Cracks in anti-corruption structure across Caribbean

Published:Sunday | December 30, 2012 | 12:00 AM


IT WOULD be well to begin with a working definition of political corruption. It is, I suggest, the use/misuse of entrusted political power and authority for illicit gains, more often than not at the expense of the public interest. This, as you can well imagine, is not only a Caribbean phenomenon and, therefore, it would be helpful to place our experience in a global context.

What are some of the most recent findings - first of all on the perception of corruption in general and political corruption in particular?

The Global Corruption Barometer Report 2010-2011, which surveyed over 100,000 people in 100 countries, found in most countries that the people perceived the political party as the institution most affected by corruption. This was the people's perception in countries as different as Argentina and Australia, Brazil and Canada, India and Ireland and even, perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The Corruption Perception Index 2011, put out by Transparency International, found that over three-quarters of the world's states scored less than five on a scale of one to 10, where one was perceived to be most corrupt and 10 most clean.

Regrettably, perception is closely tracked by reality. The United Nations estimated that in 2011, corruption prevented 30 per cent of all development assistance from reaching its final destination. This means, in effect, that for every million dollars of aid to build clinics, equip hospitals, provide roads, expand water supplies, repair damage from hurricanes $300,000 is siphoned off into the pockets of corrupt public officials and private individuals.

TRillion-dollar bribes

On another level, the World Bank Institute a few years ago, in 2004, estimated that US$1 trillion was paid in bribes from private sector to public-sector functionaries. For example, the British bridge-building firm, Mabey and Johnson paid a fine of £6.5 million having pleaded guilty in a British court of bribing public officials in Ghana, Iraq and Jamaica.

So, how does the Caribbean fit into this global context? Caribbean people, in surveys, perceived corruption and political corruption, in particular, as one of the main things wrong with the Caribbean. More often than not, they have least confidence in political parties and politicians among institutions assessed in terms of the levels of the peoples' trust. Take a look if you can at the Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP 2010) which looks at the political culture of democracy across Latin America and the Caribbean. Among the 26 countries measured, the people of Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica perceive their countries to be most corrupt, with Guyana not far behind. In elections over the last twenty years across the region, corruption scandals have been significant, governments have been removed largely on the grounds of being corrupt and replaced by the opposition largely on the basis of promises of integrity, only to repeat the cycle subsequently, thereby reconfirming popular concern that the issue of political corruption contributes to growing cynicism.

The external perception of Caribbean states is mainly different from our citizens' views of ourselves. Over the last five years only three Caribbean Community (CARICOM) states, Barbados, St Lucia and St Vincent score consistently over five on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.

In the interest of balance, however, we should note some good news. LAPOP 2010 measured not only the people's perception but also their reported experiences in five CARICOM states (Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Belize and Haiti) and involvement in bribery or attempted bribery of police officers, government employees, local government officials, etc - so-called 'corruption victimisation'.

Only eight per cent of Jamaica's population and nine per cent of Trinidad and Tobago's population reported involvement in bribery at this level. This is among the lowest of the Latin American and Caribbean countries. Belize and Guyana are at the midpoint with 17 per cent each, and Haiti experienced the highest levels of the countries measured at 54 per cent. It should be noted that Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago experience of corruption victimisation is three times lower than the global average, where one in four people in 86 countries around the world reported paying bribes in the Global Corruption Barometer Report 2010-2011.

perception and experience

How can we explain the gap between perception and experience in the Caribbean - first, media spotlight exposing allegations as well as evidence of corruption gives the issue prominence in the public mind; second, some reduction in incentives to pay bribes as public agencies increase efficiencies cutting down on red tape and delays, etc. One additional factor, which applies very much to Jamaica, is the extent to which police officers are being punished for requesting or receiving bribes. But I believe there is a most important reason why the experience of corruption victimisation is low, while corruption perception is high. That important reason is that while the 'man-in-the-street' involvement in corruption is declining, corruption in high places among so-called 'untouchables' is becoming more endemic across the region and our people see and hear enough in our small societies to believe that 'big fish' are getting away metaphorically, and sometimes literally, with murder. This is not just a Caribbean phenomenon.

There can be no question that across the region, radical reforms are urgently required to build institutional capacity, to strengthen anti-corruption laws, anti-corruption institutions and integrity-building activity.

I conclude that urgent measures are required - measures which require the support and assistance of our international partners - to have a deeper understanding of the dynamics of corruption across the Caribbean and, alongside this deeper understanding, to design as well as implement practical measures to build integrity and to combat corruption more effectively.

This article is an edited version of a presentation by Professor Trevor Munroe, executive director, National Integrity Action, at the University College of the Cayman Islands' .