Letters

Mass Corruption in Saint Vincent

Firstly, what is corruption? Often, we use expressions or terms without having a clear understanding of their meaning or implications. In most dictionaries, corruption is described as dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.

Is corruption merely the reflection of a lack of integrity? I suppose it can be described as that, but it can also be described as a breach of Christian values, theft of decency and society led by corrupt officials using corrupt means to stay in power.

So where does election corruption come into the equation? In most countries, democratic elections have been assumed to play a crucial role in curbing corruption among public officials. Normally voters, due to their general distaste for corruption, are expected to sanction politicians who misuse public office for private gains.

But not in Saint Vincent where a large proportion of the voters are more than willing to accept bribes to vote in favour of the Unity Labour Party [ULP].

Integrity is another term we often use but without realising its implications. For instance, when the 2001 elections took place in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Mr. Vincent Beach MP, said if we do not have integrity legislation within a hundred days, I will be gone. The ULP had championed integrity legislation before it came to office in 2001, saying while in opposition that it had a draft law. But once in power, it turned out that it was the last thing they wanted because it tied their hands.

Integrity is defined as: ‘honest’, ‘uprightness’, ‘soundness’, ‘completeness’, ‘wholeness’, ‘incorruptible’. Evangelist Billy Graham, said, ‘When we speak of integrity as a moral value, it means that a person is the same on the outside as he is inside. There is no discrepancy between what he says and what he acts, between his talk and his walk.’ But this moral model cannot be found in the current government of SVG.

February 24, 2009, in a historic moment in Parliament, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves seconded a motion raised by Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, bringing the motion on Integrity Legislation to the floor.

That draft included the establishment of a Commission to oversee the execution of the legislation. It was recommended that this Commission include the Director of Audit and four other persons to be appointed by the Governor-General from among persons who could include retired judges, persons who have served as Director of Finance, Comptroller of Inland Revenue or in the position of Director of Audit.

Parliamentarians will declare their assets, liabilities, and income from every source to this Commission within three months of their election. They will then make a fresh submission by December 31 every year, while they serve in parliament.

Eustace said that Commission must also have the power to report any illegal or suspicious findings to the Director of Public Prosecutions. If a person fails to make the mandatory declaration, they should be reported to the parliamentary leaders, namely the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.

Persons on the staff of the Commission are also going to be held to the strictest of confidence, and if they leak any of the information declared to the Commission, they can be fined or jailed for any unauthorised breach.

Dr Gonsalves obviously did not like the legislation at all, he raised questions about the demands of such legislation, saying that it could create difficulty in attracting persons to public office, who may find it difficult to submit themselves to that.

By 2016, the integrity legislation was still not gazetted and made law; it appeared to be abandoned. Gonsalves made a statement on the issue.

“The question is to enlarge those things and to go particularly for the matter of declaring assets and liabilities. And the difficulties with it, are you going to do it for ministers and not doing it for permanent secretaries?” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs.

He said the difficulties that arise with the various integrity legislation drafts include senior public servants wanting exemption because they must submit not only their returns but also that of their spouse and children who live with them.

“They say, ‘Listen, I am not going to take on this burden. I am a permanent secretary, and my husband is a businessman. I have to do that?’’’ Gonsalves said.

Gonsalves said there is already a difficulty in getting people to serve as members of boards of directors of state companies. But we the Vincentian people know there is no difficulty in awarding such jobs to the boys, who are paid such huge fees they would have no cause to turn down such a position when offered.

Legislation or no legislation they will take the jobs and take their salaries to the bank in wheelbarrows.

So, no integrity legislation, and what appears to be a licence for a free for all within the government departments to steal as much as possible as quickly as possible, just like before.

On Thursday, June 28th 2018, Gonsalves speaking in parliament said he has been in discussion both in CARICOM and OECS and would like countries to fashion integrity legislation more particular across the OECS where there are more significant similarities, and where the integration is tighter.

In July 2018, Prime Minister Dr Gonsalves, leader of the ULP Government of St Vincent, told CARICOM that he wants to tackle integrity in public life from a CARICOM standpoint, “I would like us to have a model piece of legislation regionally to addresses matters in relation to quote and quote Integrity legislation”.

Most who have followed the situation in SVG will say Gonsalves spoke untruthfully when he made such statements; that he has no intention of introducing into law any integrity legislation. He dares to blame the NDP when he told parliament that the opposition is not serious on the issue and noted that an integrity commission was included in a proposed new constitution which they rejected.

He said: “The new constitution was far superior to what we have now, and there were no downsides in term of democracy and transparency. However, an opportunistic political position was taken by the opposition”.

So Gonsalves claims that because the NDP and most Vincentians rejected the new constitution that is the reason we have no integrity legislation today.

Yet when you look at the elections, it is allegedly the ULP that is giving away before each election twenty million dollars plus in building materials in return for the recipients to vote ULP.

Corruption is a complex phenomenon, often deeply rooted in the cultural and political practices of societies. It has become so deep-rooted in Saint Vincent that it will take international help to break the cycle.

Although the precise costs of corruption are hard to quantify and vary significantly from country to country, research suggests that corruption is bad for economic and social development (e.g., Rothstein 2011).

Corruption has been shown to have a detrimental effect on tax revenues (Pani 2010), investments and economic growth (Mauro 1995, Del Monte & Papagni 2001), equality and poverty (Chong & Calderon 2000, Gupta et al. 2002, You & Khagram 2005, Uslaner 2008), and overall subjective well-being and life satisfaction (Tay et al. 2014).

Moreover, corruption is said to erode political trust and undermine political legitimacy in a variety of institutional settings (Della Porta 2000, Seligson 2002, Andersen & Tverdova 2003, Chang & Chu 2006).

In other words, the backwardness of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines can be directly attributed to the corruption brought not just to the ballot box but many different branches of the ULP government.

Remember all left-wing governments in the Americas and the Caribbean need to create a peasant class to keep them in power. Poor ignorant people who gladly accept bribery as the norm. But they often go hungry, no work, massive crime, murders, children with drug habits. The result will ultimately be a situation, just like Venezuela.

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines already under the ULP have more people than ever before receiving money from the poor fund. The ULP is proud of that and brags that because there are more being paid from the poor fund, they must be doing a better job. But the truth is more peasants have been created under this government.

Time for a change, time for integrity and decency, time for the NDP.

Nathan ‘Jolly’ Green

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