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Corruption free society

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As I commuted to work last Friday, the issue of corruption on a global scale was raised by another passenger.

Simply put “governance” means: the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented (or not implemented). Today more than ever before our governments and civil societies around the world are in need of not just governance but good governance. Good governance is increasingly seen as a key factor in ensuring national prosperity and is important for economic and social development. It is participatory, consensus oriented, accountable, transparent, responsive, effective and efficient, equitable and inclusive and follows the rule of law.{{more}} It assures that corruption is minimized, the views of minorities are taken into account, and that the voices of the most vulnerable in society are heard in decision-making. It is also responsive to the present and future needs of the people.

Likewise, it is paramount that there is a lack of corruption every where, but particularly so in our rather fragile mini-state jurisdictions, as it opens up a false notion of an absence of any formal system of government in such societies. Good governance depends on an ability to exercise power, and to make good decisions over time, concerning a spectrum of economic, social, political, environmental and other areas. This is linked with the government’s capacity for knowledge, mediation, resource allocation, implementation and maintenance of key relationships.

According to Transparency International (TI), a global civil society organisation, whose primary aim is to create change towards a world free of corruption, global corruption is on the rise. Alarmingly, political parties, parliaments, judicial and police systems are winning the corruption races worldwide. Corruption being defined as the misuse of entrusted power for private gain has a further differentiation between “according to rule” corruption and “against the rule” corruption.

Corruption is as old as the scriptures, for the Bible clearly states in Genesis 6:11 that, the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence, much like it is today. The cost of corruption has long-term political, economic and social effects. On the political front, corruption constitutes a major obstacle to democracy and the rule of law. In a democratic system, offices and institutions lose their legitimacy when they are misused for private advantage. This is more harmful in newly emerging democracies than the established ones. Accountable political leadership cannot develop in a corrupt climate.

Economically, corruption leads to the depletion of national wealth, is often responsible for scarce public resources to uneconomic high-profile projects at the expense of the less spectacular but more necessary infrastructure projects such as schools, hospitals and roads, or the supply of power and water to rural areas.

Furthermore, it hinders the development of fair market structures and distorts competition, thereby deterring investment. The effect of corruption on the social fabric of society is the most damaging of all. It undermines people’s trust in the political system, in its institutions and its leadership. Frustration and general apathy among a disillusioned public result in a weak civil society. That in turn clears the way for democratically elected yet unscrupulous leaders to turn national assets into personal wealth. Those unwilling to comply often emigrate, leaving the country drained of its most able and most honest citizens.

Global examples

In 1974 Maria Estela Martinez de Peron became the first female Argentinean President. At the age of 75 she is wanted for questioning in connection with the disappearance of an activist in February 1976, and was arrested on January 12 2007 in Madrid for the disappearance of people in Argentina during her term as president. She is currently under house arrest in Madrid pending extradition to Argentina.

In 2005, Augusto Pinochet, past President of Chile was indicted on tax evasion charges and placed under house arrest for an alleged $11 million hidden in secret accounts under false names. Pinochet marked his 91st birthday on November 25, 2006 by issuing a statement for the first time taking full political responsibility for atrocities and abuses committed by his regime. Two days later, he was indicted and ordered to remain under house arrest for the kidnapping and murder of two bodyguards of former President Salvador Allende. The Chilean Court of Appeal ordered the release of this house arrest as he suffered a heart attack on December 3, 2006. He died December 10 2006.

Manuel Noriega a military dictator from Panama is currently imprisoned for trafficking, and money laundering.

Closer to home

In spite of recent anti-corruption efforts of intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, the Caribbean corruption woes appear to be worsening. These efforts are failing at arresting corruption at the grass root level. What is more saddening is that political corruption in the Caribbean Basin retards our state economic growth as it is one of the biggest obstacles in our fight against poverty and development, undermines government legitimacy, and threatens state security more than anything else. In our region Barbados is rated as the least corrupt Caribbean nation, scoring 24 out of 163 countries worldwide, and Haiti being the most corrupt in the world according to TI’s world corruption index.

The United Nations Convention against Corruption marked an historic milestone in the fight against corruption, when it declared an International Anti-Corruption day on December 9 2005. The hope is that more Caribbean governments will be seizing and prioritising the initiative and sign up to the Convention in a bid to fight corruption in the near future. As voters we should pay special attention to the governments who promise that they will wipe out corruption as this is a fundamental reason why they should be voted into office.

Precedents have been set here in the Caribbean where Chief Justice Sharma, who is accused of trying to pervert the course of public justice by attempting to sway the decision of Chief Magistrate Sherman Mc Nicolls in the Basdeo Panday integrity trial, went to the highest appellate court, the Privy Council in London. He was later charged, arrested and will stand trial, a superior reminder that no one is above the law. In the same manner the former Prime Minister, and Opposition leader of Trinidad and Tobago Basdeo Panday was found guilty on all three counts of failing to declare a London Bank account to the Integrity Commission.

As we get ready for the Ottley Hall saga enquiry, it will be interesting to see how it unfolds. Our society must take warning, since these instances prove contrary to the general notion that white collar crimes are not prosecuted as blue collar crimes. It should be clear that good governance is an ideal which is difficult to achieve. Very few countries and societies have come close to achieving good governance in its totality. However, to ensure sustainable human development, actions must be taken to work towards this ideal with the aim of making it a reality. As Vincentians, we all have a personal responsibility to help end corruption.

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