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Donor nations must probe deeper for corruption- Caribbean professor

Executive Director of National Integrity Action of Jamaica (NIAJ) Professor Trevor Munroe. At left is Transparency International’s Coordinator for the Americas, Maximilian Heywood.

Professor of Governance and Politics at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Trevor Munroe wants donor countries and agencies to dig deeper to ensure that their taxpayers’ cash is not ending up in the pockets of corrupt politicians.

Munroe, who is also Executive Director of National Integrity Action of Jamaica (NIAJ), also called on Transparency International (TI) to adjust its rules to become a watchdog against corruption in the private sector.

Delivering the feature address at the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc’s (TIGI) 2nd annual fund raising dinner on Friday night, he defined political corruption as “the misuse or the use of entrusted political power and authority for illicit gain more often than not at the expense of the public’s interest.”

Munroe argued that donor nations must be more enquiring about how their funds are used even at the risk of being accused of meddling in domestic affairs. “Our International Development Partners need to understand that what aid they give to us is coming from their taxpayers under pressure and they have an obligation to ensure that that aid reaches our taxpayers, our people and is not interrupted along the road.

“I need to make it absolutely clear that even at the risk of accusations of interference that their money, their aid, their grant is intended for the people and not for the pockets of the corrupt.

An NIAJ-commissioned survey had showed that 43 percent of Jamaicans did not believe that greater involvement by donor nations and agencies in determining whether monies were being misappropriated amounted to interference in internal affairs. Those who opposed were 35 percent. “The point I am making is that in this period of globalisation the corrupt in high places would try and play the nationalist card as they tried in Jamaica,” he said.

Professor Munroe noted that the United Nations estimated that corruption prevented 30 percent of all development assistance from reaching its final destination. That, he said, amounted to US$300,000 of every US$1 million which is siphoned off into the pockets of public officials and private persons.

Himself a former politician, the Professor recommended that Transparency International amend its definition to permit as much focus on private sector corruption as is being done on the public sector. He said it was not fair and just for transnational companies to pay fines while remaining rich and wealthy.

“I say to Transparency International: Yes, we need to sustain the focus on public officials, yes we need to look at the abuse of entrusted political authority for illicit gains but we now need to take much more seriously the abuse of market power for personal and private gain by transnational corporations in the way that they have been doing recently,” he said.

He noted that the World Bank in 2004 estimated that US$1 trillion was paid in bribes from private sector to public sector functionaries. He recalled that JP Morgan concluded a US$13 billion settlement with the United States Department of Justice including US$2 billion in fines for improper conduct during the global financial crisis. The British bridge building firm Mabey and Johnson paid a more than 6 million pound sterling fine for pleading guilty for bribing public officials in Ghana, Iraq and Jamaica.

Touching on the wider Caribbean, Professor Munroe noted that several surveys show that people across the region perceive corruption and political corruption as one of the main things wrong in the region resulting in least confidence in political parties.

Building integrity and combating corruption, he said, could be gradually achieved by conducting rapid corruption risk assessments in each CARICOM country. In the case of his native Jamaica, he said an assessment in 2008 had showed that that country had been in “clear and present danger of State capture by criminal or commercial interests.”

An alternative option for Guyana, he suggested, could be a national integrity system study to ground anti-corruption activities in a systemic understanding of which are the strong and weak institutions to arrive at priority actions to be targeted.

Professor Munroe further recommended that laws be passed to register political parties and campaign financing to provide for disclosure of big donors. The campaign financing law, he added, should provide for the banning of illegal organisations that give money to political parties and election campaigns. “The longer we take to plug this and similar loopholes is the more of our people should lose confidence in the rule of law, in the justice system and ultimately in democratic governance,” he said.

He strongly suggested that Guyana press for political party registration and campaign financing in keeping with recommendations made by the Organisation of American States Mission that observed the November 2011 elections. That mission had, among other things, observed that the system allows for the use of State resources for campaigning.

The UWI academic passionately demanded that Caribbean people easily access campaign financing information about their own countries in the same way they could for the United States and the United Kingdom. “None of us can know who is giving how much to political parties here in our own Caribbean territories and it is they who exercise power over us- not Obama’s Democratic Party or Romney’s Republican Party.

We need to know who is giving how much to who and, therefore, who have the capacity to exert undue influence on whom,” he said to loud applause at the dinner that was held at the Guyana Pegasus.

While Munroe noted that the Caribbean was not alone in grappling with corruption, he lamented that in the region there was little or no successful investigation, prosecution and conviction of persons in high places for illicit enrichment.

“In too many CARICOM states, there is regular prima facie evidence pointing to irregular procurement procedures, pointing to bribery payments as well as kick-backs and improper expenditure of public funds,” he added.

Professor Munroe further queried why little or no action is being taken to address breaches chronicled in the various Auditor General’s Reports.

Among his recommendations is the need for radical institutional reform to build capacity to strengthen anti-corruption laws and institutions and integrity building activity. “The consequences of continued failure in these regards are grave and serious,” he said, adding that poverty would worsen.

The World Bank says that countries that stamp out corruption can yield a four-fold increase in per capita income and an increase in annual growth rate by two to four percent.

He noted that Global Corruption Barometer 2013 surveyed over 114,000 persons in 107 countries where in most of them the people themselves in the country perceived the political party as the institution most affected by corruption.

Munroe also referred to the findings a United Nations Development Programme’s 2010 Citizens Security Survey that shows that almost 50 percent of the people in seven countries believe that the justice system is corrupt. In Jamaica, 70 percent believed so to a low of 34 percent in Barbados shared that view. Related, he said, 52 percent of the people in those countries believe that politically connected criminals go free and 47 percent thought that powerful criminals with money and contacts go free.

Over the last five years, only three CARICOM member nations-Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines- were consistently scoring high on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index as being relatively clean.

The NIAJ Executive Director lauded activities such as TIGI’s fund raising dinners and public awareness messages through the media. He, however, argued that nothing beats grassroots contact. “All of that is good but ultimately you have to go down on the ground, you have to meet the people where they are in their districts and their villages and town halls. Talk with them and hear from them as to what their experience has been and is and that has served us very well and perhaps others in the region can learn from that,” he said.