Editorial

Let's rid our region of cronyism

Sunday, March 30, 2014    

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A deeply entrenched culture of cronyism exists in the Caribbean infecting government and regional institutions. This cancerous culture and practice is very costly to already inefficient national and regional organisations.

Cronyism is the practice of persons providing benefits to friends or political associates, by appointing them to jobs for which they do not necessarily have the requisite professional qualifications and work experience.

It is therefore contrary to the principle of meritocracy, fair and transparent selection and appointment and could, in some circumstances, be categorised as immoral or corrupt.

The motives for the practice of cronyism vary from helping a friend, rewarding a member of their political party or where both persons expect to derive some illicit economic gain — such as when co-conspirators initiate a business venture based on access to information not available to the public, or insider trading.

When these practices become sufficiently widespread it can be so corrupt and pervasive it becomes crony capitalism. At this point success in business depends on social relationships between business people and politicians and officials in government.

Cronyism takes two major forms based on the type of economic gain which is the objective being pursued.

First, there is "income-generating cronyism" where the objective is to generate a stream of income on a regular basis. This occurs when a person unqualified by training and/or experience is being paid for a job he or she cannot do. The corruption goes further when that person abuses the perks of the job, eg using an official vehicle or office telephones for extensive personal use. These are minor offences compared with one of the biggest scams, that of travel per diem as a second stream of income.

Many officials in governments, regional institutions and international financial institutions are perpetually engaged in specious international travel. Often these international trips are to attend non-essential meetings which could be settled by e-mail or telephone.

Travel per diem yields an income of thousands of dollars and there is no oversight because the people who authorise the trips are often the beneficiaries. There are occasions when an official can be away for more than 50 per cent of their work days, sometimes up to three weeks at a time.

Second, there is "wealth-generating cronyism" which occurs when the politician or official uses positions and access to information to promote programmes or projects which will become a business for them and their co-conspirators.

This is how unscrupulous persons create enough wealth to transform themselves from an ordinary income earner into a capitalist. Having accomplished the establishment as a business, they then start to systematically feed off the government through contracts, especially those not subject to public procurement procedures. The appetite for wealth can make a crony a serial offender.

In private institutions, there are some who indulge in insider trading, for example, by buying up stocks or selling off stocks, based on information that will affect the value of such stocks in the near future.

We call on all well-thinking persons to "out" the practitioners of cronyism in our region.

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