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Thursday 19 October 2017
Commentary

Corruption Latin America and Caribbean style

Earlier this week Transparency International launched its Global Corruption Barometer for 2017, entitled People and Corruption: Latin America and the Caribbean. A timely focus on this region some would say, given, among other things, the perceptions of corruption in the distribution of disaster relief to hurricane-ravaged countries like Dominica.

The report begins, “In recent years, worrying trends have been observed in the Latin America and Caribbean region, including the erosion of human rights and the weakening of governance structures.

Many countries are experiencing a rise in violent crime and insecurity and a clampdown on the free expression of activists, journalists and civil society organisations.”

The report’s authors summarised the findings of their six-month-long study, “We found that many people were worried about the level of corruption in the region: nearly two-thirds of respondents to the survey said that they thought it was on the rise and over a half said that their government was doing a bad job at fighting corruption. Worryingly, two key institutions that play a vital role in good governance were perceived by citizens as the most corrupt — the police and elected representatives.” The report predictably seems to focus largely on Latin American countries but still reveals some interesting trends about the Caribbean countries in which surveys were conducted. In Trinidad and Tobago, for instance, 59 per cent of citizens believe the Government is doing badly at tackling corruption yet, despite high levels of bribery across the region, this country has the lowest bribery rate at only six per cent.

However, TT citizens could be the least likely to report corruption when they were to witness or become aware of corrupt activity.

The survey asked people whether there is social stigma in their country against people coming forward to report corruption. Positively, six in ten said that it is socially acceptable to report a case of corruption (60 per cent), while just over one in five said that it is not socially acceptable to do so (22 per cent). TT came in at the absolute bottom of the list with only 37 per cent of citizens believing it was socially acceptable.

The report suggests that throughout the region a large majority of citizens believe that citizens can make a difference in reducing corruption, however the numbers of citizens who feel empowered to intervene in some way is not as high.

Even if fear of retribution does not discourage potential whistle-blowers from coming forward to report corruption, some people may be dissuaded from getting involved because they feel they had no power to influence a positive change.

In fact, “only nine per cent of bribe payers in the survey actually came forward and reported it to the authorities. Of those who did report it, 28 per cent suffered negative consequences as a result.”

The report concluded that “low reporting rates are hardly surprising in the region, where many saw the police and courts as highly corrupt and the threat of violent payback was a real risk for people who spoke out” and that without protection mechanisms in place, the negatives of holding corrupt officials to account far outweighed the benefits.

Sadly, the report points out that the sectors in which citizens are most likely to pay a bribe are in health and education. Although, of the countries surveyed, TT seems to have reported the lowest level of service users who had paid a bribe in the last 12 months across all sectors.

Finally, the report reiterates that corruption of all kinds undermines justice institutions, weakens the rule of law, distorts political processes and enables politicians to act with impunity. Furthermore, the report points to the need to engage the public in stamping out corruption, including by providing the necessary protections to encourage whistle-blowers.

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