Archive for May 15th, 2011

The Faces of Corruption

The Faces of Corruption

| 15/05/2011 | 59 Comments

The 2009 Constitution, which one very prominent politicianhas repeatedly indicated he did not support, created a Commission for Standards in Public Life tasked, “to support and enhance democracy in the Cayman Islands and to promote the highest standards of integrity and competence in public life in order to ensure the prevention of corruption or conflicts of interest.” Events since 2009 suggest that if this body exists in more than name, then it has a great deal of work to do.

It is time for an open and very public debate regarding the standards which our politicians will be required to meet by the electorate. Politicians simply cannot be allowed to set and enforce their own standards, particularly given what we has occurred in recent times. Our country is far too precious. We cannot allow it to be bartered for a container load of appliances or short haul flights on private jets.

Ideally, the Standards Commission would publish a discussion document setting out a detailed draft set of explicit standards and would then lead an open public debate on what standards politicians ought to live up to. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that there is any will to do so. Challenging the actions of politicians, corrupt or otherwise, requires personal strength. In an environment polluted by corruption, patronage, and threats, it also requires sufficient determination to face the potential retribution which corrupt politicians almost always threaten in order to maintain the flow of illicit benefits for which they and their cronies entered public life.

Despite the absence of an official debate, a debate is nevertheless taking place. Corruption and patronage are being challenged in the media, at family gatherings and on the marl road. Buffoonery and corruption are mocked in online commentaries. These challenges are coming from many sources. Young educated Caymanians are appalled at seeing their futures sold off. Middle aged Caymanians are tired of seeing their hard earned money wasted on extravagance, and older Caymanians remember when public minded individuals freely gave of their time to serve in the Legislative Assembly for no pay other than the chance to do what was right for their society. The challenges, at first ignored, are now being met by politicians and their hangers-on who feel that their private interests are threatened.

Not all politicians are corrupt, either in Cayman or elsewhere in the world. Wherever it happens in the world, overt corruption can be identified with relative ease by using no more than common sense. Suspect politicians, their apprentices, their handlers and their cronies seek the ability to manipulate public policy, public procurement and public largess for their own private gain. Any one of the following acts should ring alarm bells and send up red flags.

They spend public funds for the private benefit of themselves and their supporters, and then justify their actions by saying that some other politician of equally challenged morality did the same thing at some point in the past. They prevent sustainable development in favour of poorly thought out schemes which enrich politicians and their cronies in the short term. They are happy to offer up the environment for destruction for their 30 pieces of silver. They fabricate the existence of non-existent provisions in a constitution in order to justify their predatory excess spending from the public purse. They ignore the time honoured separation of the judicial, administrative and political branches of government in order to get whatever they or their cronies or handlers want. They make completely irrelevant comparisons with supposed past events to suggest that they are justified in ignoring the rules and ignoring the separation between public benefit and private benefit whenever paving something will get them a vote or two.

They present themselves in courts of justice to leave no doubt about which way those entrusted with decisions are to render their decisions.They ignore the requirements of procurement laws. They trade favours and give concessions which cost the public purse in exchange for money or property or contracts which provide private benefit. They appoint persons to public authorities and boards in a system of barter for private gain. They ignore elections laws and the provisions of their constitutions. They rail against freedom of the press and freedom of information which might expose corrupt practices. They threaten to use the authority they have been givento do public good, to change laws so as to silence journalists and deny the public access to information which may disclose corruption. They use public funds to provide cronies with high paying non-jobs as “advisors” and “consultants”. They pay for the expenses of their election campaigns by awarding “non-jobs” and “no real purpose” contracts paid for with tax dollars once they are elected. They use public funds to hire the relatives of supposedly neutral decision makers to do “non-jobs” in order to ensure that the media is stifled and that corruption is less likely to be exposed in the proceedings of democratic institutions. In short, corrupt politicians are a threat to every society and should be labelled and shunned as such.

Corruption is corruption wherever it may be found. A great deal of work has been done in identifying corrupt practices in democracies around the world. We have the option of looking at how corrupt practices and abuse of public office have been defined and dealt with in Commonwealth countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. We have the option of looking at the public work of international organisations such as Transparency International. We have clear statements from world leaders such as Kofi-Annan, former Secretary General, United Nations, who wrote that corruption "debases democracy, undermines the rule of law, distorts markets, stifles economic growth, and denies many their rightful share of economic resources …”

We also have the words of the current UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who has written, “Corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law.  It leads to violations of human rights.  It erodes public trust in government. It can even kill.” We also have concrete examples of how non-corrupt politicians act, in relation to judicial proceeding and otherwise, in democracies around the world.

In the absence of any discussion document from the Standards Commission, set out below is one potential list of questions which hopefully will widen the public debate of what constitutes a corrupt political practice and who might be corrupt. Any politician engaged in corrupt practice is corrupt and should not be permitted to hold any public office. It is as simple as that. Keeping that in mind we need to ask ourselves the following;

Is it a corrupt practice for a politician to steal, waste or otherwise use public funds for personal benefit?

Is it a corrupt practice for a politician to use public funds to directly or indirectly buy votes?

Is it a corrupt practice for a politician to directly or indirectly interfere in judicial proceedings?

Is it a corrupt practice for a politician to directly or indirectly sell or barter appointments to public authorities or public boards?

Is it a corrupt practice for a politician to directly or indirectly provide duty, tax or other concessions which cost the public purse in exchange for direct or indirect personal gain?

Is it a corrupt practice for a politician to directly or indirectly use public funds to manipulate notionally independent decision makers in our democratic institutions?

Is it a corrupt practice for a politician to directly or indirectly intimidate or victimise civil servants who refuse to collaborate in corrupt or unethical activities?

Is it a corrupt practice for a politician to directly or indirectly award “non-jobs” at public expense as payment for political support or work done in political campaigns?

Is it a corrupt practice for a politician to directly or indirectly accept kickbacks from developers or financial institutions granted favourable decisions or contracts by the political arm of government?

There are many other questions which also need to be explicitly asked and explicitly answered in order for the Cayman Islands to begin to prosper as a corruption free society. It is also likely that we will need to re-write some of our laws relating to corruption and abuse of public office as the ones our politicians have enacted offer too much latitude to the corrupt and insufficient punishment. We need to think of systemic political corruption as the form of organised crime which it is and we need to treat it the way such a cancer should be treated.

For far too long we have been naive in relation to what motivates some who aspire to political life, and we have been too willing to turn a blind eye when a politician "took a lil piece for his seff". It should be no wonder that some of them now think that they, the politicians and their cronies, are entitled to everything with the public being left with not even a "lil piece" of the benefits flowing through this country. The standard of politician we have been willing to accept has been far too low in the case of some, and we have not valued the honesty and integrity of other politicians enough.

Hopefully as we go forward as a society, every person will look at each questionable action of a politician and will ask, “Why is this being done, and who is benefiting?” The more these questions are asked and the more forceful we are in letting politicians know that corrupt practices will not be tolerated, the less common corruption will be.  In 2 years or less we will have the opportunity to vote for politicians who have not shown themselves to be corrupt. In the time leading up to that election we need to shine as much light on corrupt practices as possible. That is the best hope for the long term future of this country.

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