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T&T Must Take Corruption Seriously

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Are we as a people taking corruption seriously? Do people fully appreciate the ills of corruption, the need to be vigilant about the ills of corruption and the need to demand the Government to account on the issue of corruption? Before the general election was called in 2010, the population clamoured for a new government to rescue and save our country.



The People’s Partnership capitalised on those feelings and in its manifesto promised change. It promised to build a new society based on new politics. It promised good governance through effective representation, participatory democracy, openness, transparency and accountability.


Has the new Government kept its promises? The question to be asked is whether after the general election, the new Government demonstrated that governance would be based on new politics and on the principles promised in its manifesto. The latest annual report of Transparency International found that since the new Government took office, there was an increased perception of official corruption in Trinidad and Tobago.


Since corruption is a cancer that undermines democracy and prevents healthy economic growth, its proceeds are the largest potential source of funding available to many governments, aside from foreign direct investment, and the effects of corruption include the covering up of wrongdoing or activities of public officials, any government committed to integrity in public life, would take positive steps to ensure that corruption is not condoned by it and that high standards of conduct in public life are observed.


Corruption is not limited to offering and taking bribes. It includes other acts of wrongdoing that are inconsistent with the principles of clean governance. The Integrity in Public life Act Chapt 22:02 makes it clear that corruption also includes the use of public office by officials for any improper advancement for family, personal or financial interests or the interests of any person, the engagement of the official in any transaction, or the acquiring by the official of any position, or any commercial or other interest that is incompatible with his or her office, function and duty or the discharge thereof.



The official must not use public property or services for activity not related to the official work and must not directly or indirectly use his or her office for private gain.


The use of insider information by the official for private gain is also prohibited. Official information that is gained in the execution of the office and is not available to the general public must not be used by the official in furtherance of the official’s private interest. Influence peddling by the official is also prohibited, that is, the official must not use his office or seek to influence a decision made by another person or public body to further his or her own private interest.


The receipt of gifts by the official can be corrupt. An official must not accept a fee, gift or personal benefit except compensation authorised by law connected with the performance of that person’s duties of office. Conflicts of interest are prohibited, where the public official knows or ought to know that in making an official decision, there is an opportunity either directly or indirectly to further his or her private interest or that of a member of his or her family or any other person.


It is accepted globally that if a government does not take genuine action against corruption and the violation of its Integrity laws, such violations and corruption can produce high levels of inequality in the distribution of income in the country. It is recognised that these economic inequalities can contribute to social instability. This can create conditions for popular uprising, which in turn damages investor confidence and depresses trade in the country.  


The need for the Government to be serious in the fight against corruption in Trinidad and Tobago was recognised as far back as the 1970s. Queen’s Counsel Karl Hudson-Phillips on May 25, in an address to the Trinidad and Tobago chapter of Transparency International, made public for the first time the contents of a speech he prepared 39 years ago that was to be delivered at the annual convention of the PNM on December 2, 1973. In that speech, he wrote that corruption was a cancer in our society.


On July 1, 1977, Mr ANR Robinson (who later became prime minister and president) in the House of Representatives, speaking on corruption, stated that corruption had to be taken seriously. He said it was a highly-infectious disease and that it would spread throughout the society. He said it prejudiced healthy economic growth and it undermined the stability of democratic governments.


On May 30, Prof Trevor Munroe, executive director of National Integrity Action Ltd (NIAL), at the opening of Transparency International of the Americas 2012 Regional Meeting, stated that NIAL’s commitment to combating corruption was unshakeable because if corruption was removed, Jamaica would grow at a substantially higher rate than the 0.9 per cent recorded over the last four decades, which was one of the slowest in the world. Further, removing corruption would create decent jobs and would facilitate the prosperity to which the people of Jamaica were entitled to and which they aspired for 50 years after independence.


It is time for Trinidad and Tobago to take the issue of corruption seriously. We must be vigilant in demanding that the Government does not condone corruption and that the Government upholds the highest principles of integrity in public life. We must demand that the Government sets the example as the leader in the promotion of high standards of conduct in public life.


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