Politics should not be about serving the interests of millionaire business owners. It should be about serving the people. So Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s unequivocal declaration that all who engage in corrupt activity will not find solace in his Government — regardless of political party affiliation — is a welcomed indication of the policy of his administration. However, the Prime Minister must do more than mouth off. He must take decisive steps to tackle the sleaze within the State sector.
Rowley’s statement on Wednesday at a public town hall event was the third time in the space of a few weeks that he has placed a heightened emphasis on this issue. He made clear his view that corruption is the biggest challenge facing his tenure only a few weeks ago while hosting a radio programme, and made similar remarks addressing the media. He again underlined the need for action at yesterday’s Cabinet briefing.
Is the Prime Minister laying the groundwork for a decisive intervention? If he has a plan to tackle this problem, he must now tell us what that plan is. It is one thing to not want to be a populist tactician, it is another to remove oneself from true dialogue and responsiveness to one’s constituents. Give us a plan.
A good place to start is to shatter the myth that when it comes to white-collar crime, a government’s hands are tied by the workings of the Police Service.
For sure, no government should direct any police force to lay charges. But there are other crucial matters that cry out to be addressed that have little to do with the activities of independent law enforcement agencies.
White-collar crime has a direct nexus with the matters of campaign finance reform and public procurement. Both can, to varying degrees, be addressed by official State policy and by the passage of legislation.
Campaign finance reform is a global issue. For instance, Hillary Clinton promised American voters “a plan for aggressive campaign finance reform” last year. Her opponent, Donald Trump, put it more nebulously, promising to “drain the swamp.”
The world over, politicians are funded by business groups that then expect some benefit in return. This can be completely innocuous, such as a stable business climate. Or it can be utterly nefarious, such as the handing of a billion-dollar contract to friends. Too often there are suspicions that Peter pays the piper.
Very often the means of making these payments involve breaches of good procurement practices. Side by side with this is the unofficial economy, the dark realm in which institutions like the Financial Intelligence Unit can flag hundreds, even thousands of suspicious transactions yet little official law enforcement action results. Money laundering is a serious issue and eventually the trail leads to other things like the drug, gun, and slave trades.
The Government cannot prosecute, but it can resource. It cannot throw money at the country’s problems, but at the same time it must. This is the price we are paying as a society: money that could be funding our hospitals, paying our doctors and nurses, keeping our cities beautiful, and sheltering our homeless must be spent reading the forensic details of balance sheets.
But what about measures like a voluntary system of penalties for registered companies in which any company that breaches the rules is blacklisted? Or repealing the funding provisions of the Representation of the People Act? Or reforming the Constitution to allow more effective disciplinary action against corrupt technocrats? Or the long-delayed code of conduct for parliamentarians? As Finance Minister Colm Imbert might say when he presents his Budget: every little counts.