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Tuesday 16 July 2019
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Curbing corruption

INTERNATIONAL Anti-Corruption Day will be commemorated during this month. That means you can expect familiar platitudes from the usual stakeholders who have been trying, over decades, to eradicate this scourge.

What few will admit is that corruption, while we would like it to be a thing of the past, can only be curbed. Not eradicated. Which is why, ahead of next week’s United Nations (UN) observances, we would like to urge all to think of corruption as a matter that depends more on strengthening checks and balances within institutions, rather than just beefing up detection and prosecution.

Recent events have underlined just how endemic a culture of corruption appears to be. All sectors of state activity have been touched.

Seemingly innocuous programmes aimed at providing relief to flood victims have been marred by a range of offences relating to the distribution of grants, the unauthorised allocation of housing units and, in some cases, the revelation that as much as 40 per cent of overall funding can be siphoned.

But we have also seen allegations of corruption at the Chaguanas Borough Corporation involving building approvals, police officers charged with soliciting bribes and refusing lie detector tests, and even claims of mismanagement at the Cocoa Development Company. Even Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has forecast a wave of corruption matters in court and described the problem as a cancer in our society. We agree.

As noted by the UN, corruption is a complex social, political and economic phenomenon that affects all countries. It can occur at any time and in various guises. But no matter what form it takes, corruption has the potential to undermine democratic institutions and slow economic development. All of which contributes to social instability.

In its more extreme iterations, corruption attacks the foundation of democratic institutions by distorting electoral processes, perverting the rule of law and creating bureaucratic quagmires whose only reason for existing is the soliciting of bribes. Economic growth is stunted because few want to invest, and small firms find it possible to gain a foothold.

We need to stop lamenting the problem and start taking meaningful steps to change our habits. Police probes and lawsuits are certainly powerful deterrents. But given the costs involved it is likely these barely scratch the surface. More useful would be strengthening checks and balances within state agencies to ensure a culture of compliance. This is where legislative tools such as the procurement legislation come into play.

However, the issue must be wider than obeying the rules in the award of contracts. Curbing corruption means having transparent systems that more quickly detect problems in all areas. So, for example, state entities should not be sending audits to Parliament years after the fact, leaving our elected MPs to helplessly mull over improprieties in committees after the fact.

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