Fighting corruption in the Caribbean


Friday, February 21, 2014    

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RIGHT across the Caribbean region there is a clarion call to put measures in place to fight corruption and pursue greater transparency in both the private and public sectors.

Adding his voice to the call is leading UK anti-corruption barrister John McKendrick. He was appointed by the British Government to be a part-time judge in 2010. He is standing junior counsel to the Advocate General for Scotland and was called to the Bar of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (BVI).

McKendrick believes that the rule of law is essential for economic development. He contends that corruption undermines and weakens the rule of law. He believes that essential to the rule of law is an independent judiciary.

He draws attention to the position held by former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales Tom Bingham, who argues the rule of law is essential for economic development.

Successful conduct of trade, investment and business is promoted by a body of accessible legal rules governing commercial rights and obligations.

McKendrick declares that no person is likely to do business in a country where the parties' rights and obligations are vague or undecided or the means by which such rights can be enforced are unclear.

Bingham quotes Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve Bank, who when asked what he considered the single most important contributor to economic growth, answered: "The rule of law."

Many Caribbean countries that feature on Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index (CPI) would like to have a better ranking. Transparency International said that a country's score indicates the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0 - 100, where 0 means that a country is perceived as highly corrupt and 100 means it is perceived as very clean. A country's rank indicates its position relative to the other countries and territories included in the index. Last year's index includes 177 countries and territories.

For 2013, Barbados was found to be the least corrupt Caribbean country with many other countries in the region featuring in the 56-136 ranking range.

So which countries in the Caribbean and Latin American region does McKendrick see as exhibiting commendable anti-corruption and transparency practices?

Speaking with Caribbean Business Report from the British High Commission on Trafalgar Road in Kingston, he said: "One of the countries where I have seen a much more coherent response to corruption and transparency problems is Costa Rica. The reason for this is that Costa Rica has a history of strong institutions due in the main to the longevity of its democracy. The strength of its civil society stands out.

"I must also commend its judiciary which has assisted the country in its climb up the indicators of Transparency International.

"Costa Rica is now in the top 50 least corrupt countries in the world. Jamaica is placed at 83, Guyana at 136 with Venezuela coming in at 170-plus.

"Within the Caribbean there is a mixed record. Some of the smaller territories are doing quite well such as the British Virgin Islands which has stood out over the last 10 years. It is difficult to compare Jamaica with the British Virgin Islands because it is a very small territory predominantly dependent upon financial services and tourism. This means it does not have the large-scale procurement projects that attracts corruption. From the extent to which its institutions have been strengthened and have increased GDP per capita, the British Virgin Islands has done very well.

"Now Jamaica has done relatively well when compared with a country like Guyana. Guyana has a much higher perception of corruption than Jamaica and it has a 50 per cent higher GDP per capita than Guyana. My concern for Jamaica is that if you look at it long-term, GDP per capita is not as high as one would like to see."

There are international commentators who have observed that the tolerance for corruption in Jamaica is abating and that its people are holding public officials more accountable. Corruption is not a Government problem but rather, a societal one including the press and the private sector. Ultimately, citizens can vote governments out as the people of Jamaica did in 2011 after the "Dudus" debacle.

" One of the major concerns I have heard about in Jamaica is the ability of citizens to speak out and report crime, whether it be bribery or violent crime. People are worried that to do so will bring negative consequences. There is a sense of growing levels of impunity because people are concerned that institutions are not secure so when they want to raise these matters, they are putting themselves at risk," said the UK lawyer.

Earlier this year one of the multilateral agencies raised concerns about extra-judicial killings and the police in Jamaica. What does McKendrick make of these allegations?

"It is a serious allegation. Historically, in countries where the state is struggling, almost failing like we have seen in the past in Brazil, Colombia and even in the UK, where there were allegations of government-backed paramilitary death squads in Northern Ireland, it is a worry. Even in a developed country, these allegations can surface. It is important that such allegations are robustly reported and it may well be the best way to do this is to get the international organisations involved. "Sometimes institutionally within one jurisdiction it is very difficult to investigate that type of allegation from the domestic authorities alone."

He added that the UK Bribery Act could be a template for the Caribbean to emulate. McKendrick pointed out that it is a short piece of straightforward legislation and it is something that jurisdictions can apply.

"The key thing here I would like to underline is that the existing laws of the respective Caribbean countries must be effectively implemented. There is a danger that if a debate grows to, say, "let's have this and that law in Jamaica", too much focus will be made on passing that law and focus will be lost on implementing current laws against bribery and in favour of transparency."



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