Corruption a tough topic for Caricom leaders

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, from left, Attorney General Reginald Armour, Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley during the  - AYANNA KINSALE
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, from left, Attorney General Reginald Armour, Bahamas Prime Minister Philip Davis and Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley during the - AYANNA KINSALE

CORRUPTION PERMEATES almost every area of society, destabilising systems to make space for criminal activities. It is one of the main enablers of human-rights infringements, bribery in state systems and a major facilitator of trafficking of people and firearms.

And yet, at the two-day symposium on violence as a public health issue: the crime challenge held at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain, earlier this week, where most Caricom state heads came together to declare a war on guns, and were comfortable enough to speak on every other cause of crime – including the desire of gunmen to mind pretty and high-maintenance women – very few were keen to speak on it.

While some did not even mention the word, several leaders alluded to the possibility that systems may be compromised by corrupt activities. However multiple reports suggest that corruption on many levels, contributes to the firearms trade to which Caricom is taking a stand.

Politicians: Corruption? Yes, We’ve heard of it

At a post-symposium media conference on Tuesday, Business Day asked a panel of state heads including the TT Prime Minister (PM), Jamaican PM Andrew Holness, Caricom chairman and Bahamas PM Philip Davis and St Lucia PM Philip J Pierre about corruption, and how it contributes to the firearms trade.

They said that while there is significant evidence to suggest that corruption has infiltrated many systems meant to secure and defend the region, much of that evidence is by word of mouth.

“Most of it is anecdotal supported by continuous flows of evidence of actual things happening. the best way to answer that question is to say that we know of no area, or activity, governmental or private sector, where corruption is not a possibility, likelihood or widespread,” said Dr Rowley.

Rowley said one person addressing the level of crime spoke on corruption saying that it was a major contributor, and it was recognised again during the media conference that it was a facilitator to the transport of illicit goods across regional borders, including illicit firearms.

“We spoke about illegal entry, and we assumed, and that assumption is still alive and well, that a lot of the illegal movement of these unwanted items which are so dangerous to us are facilitated by some element of corruption at various locations too numerous to mention – the obvious one being at borders.”

“The others are facilitatory action where guards who are supposed to guard the guards are in fact doing the opposite, and we are in fact familiar with it. So, it is a given that for these things to flourish there has to be some level of indifference or corruption.”

St Vincent and the Grenadines PM Dr Ralph Gonsalves also noted that there were high levels of corruption in many areas, even if he didn’t say the word.

“There has been some discussion on it,” he told Business Day. “But you have to do it on an evidence-based set of criteria. For instance, you will find things that deal with the law and order and justice system. There are aspects in those which, as you have said, there is if not conclusive sufficient anecdotal or even persuasive evidence that unsavoury things are happening that ought not to be happening.”

In remarks at the Hyatt, Gonsalves also alluded to the possibility of corruption in the judiciary, saying that it has to rend the courts from practitioners of the law.

“We are not going to address this problem (of crime and violence) very seriously unless we speak about uncomfortable things and take action regionally unless we talk about these uncomfortable matters,” he said.

“The criminal justice system in this region is increasingly becoming controlled by criminal lawyers – sorry – lawyers who practice criminal law. I don’t mean that they are themselves criminals.”

He said judges have allowed too many lawyers to control the court system under the guise of protecting the rights of the accused, utilising delays and shortcomings in the courts as a strategic part of their defence.

Barbados PM Mia Mottley – an attorney – in a similar thread spoke toward limiting the amount of familiarity between judges and lawyers, in her first contribution in the symposium.

“We need to start rotating judges and magistrates in the region to ensure that there is not the familiarity with counsel and other circumstances which we take for granted,” she said.

Strengthen laws to fight corruption

Holness said that while there wasn’t an in-depth examination of corruption and the way it affects crime and violence, it was addressed through a point of view that laws needed to be strengthened, in order to deal with new crimes that older laws did not perceive.

“We are dealing with things now like cybercrime, but we are also dealing with financial crimes. We are also dealing with a new type of criminal activity – the organised criminal activity whose deliberate and sole purpose is a business model designed to weaken the state to create space in which they can carry out illicit activities; and in fact that is one of the root causes of corruption so, indirectly, strengthening our legislative framework will treat with the matter of corruption and these new types of criminal activity.”

A Global Americas report on corruption indicated that in 2016, one in three people paid a bribe to access a service. Bribes alone are estimated to cost the globe at least US$2 trillion annually or two per cent of the global GDP.

In 2020 a report from the Commonwealth illicit financial flows cost developing countries around the world, including Caricom nations, US$1.26 trillion per year.

“Like the (covid19) pandemic which countries are fighting to control, corruption inflicts huge human and financial costs and puts in grave jeopardy the well-being of the most vulnerable,” said Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland. “Corruption is a serious crime which undermines social and economic development in all societies.”

Jai Leladharsingh, coordinator of the Confederation of Regional Chambers called on Caricom to set up a regional task force for addressing organised crime, corruption and to engage in intelligence sharing to make the necessary dents and reductions in reducing crime on a regional level.

“This task force must work with regional governments to enhance the levels of international security assistance, including assessing satellite technology from the developed world,” he said.

In 2022 Jamaica was identified as the fifth most corrupt country in the Caribbean behind Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, and TT.


"Corruption a tough topic for Caricom leaders"

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