Last week at the ascension of Dr Hubert Minnis to the seat of power in the Bahamas, the new prime minister promised those two words that have virtually become a catch phrase for regional politicians – transparency and accountability. He promised his people that his would be a government where those tenets would be at the centre of his administration. Noble indeed!
We have heard them repeatedly throughout the region from virtually every new post-colonial Government. There have been instances where some governments have tried to adhere to their promise of promoting and ensuring transparency and accountability. But more often than not, occurrences across the Caribbean indicate that “transparency” and “accountability” are simply words used to suggest that the evils of the administration left behind will not be repeated by the replacement.
Former Chief Minister of the Turks and Caicos islands, Michael Misick, on assuming office in 2003, spoke of the need for transparency and accountability in the handling of the people’s affairs. Nine years later he was being arrested on counts of conspiracy to receive bribes, conspiracy to defraud the government and money laundering.
The popular Said Musa assumed leadership of the reins of Government in Belize in 1998 and 2003. Before becoming that countries political leader he spoke passionately about accountability and transparency. Yet by 2008 he was appearing before the law courts for the theft of US$10 million.
Politicians such as leader of the Progressive National Party in the Turks and Caicos Islands, Clayton Greene, have been arrested on allegations of corruption in office; so too Cayman Islands’ premier McKeeva Bush. Trinidad and Tobago’s Basdeo Panday has also found himself on the wrong side of that same political promise.
Theirs is a story repeated across the Caribbean, often through generations. And we the people believe and trust the promises. We naturally want to believe in the goodness of our leaders. Of course, there are good, gracious and great political leaders to be found in and outside the Caribbean. But they should not be identified by rhetoric but by deeds.
In Barbados, we too have been touched by promises of transparency and accountability. Both the Barbados Labour Party and the Democratic Labour Party from their inception and across political leadership have promised to engender transparency and accountability in political life. The promises are usually made while either is in Opposition. Their respective rule over the decades has not been without allegations and confirmation of dubious financial and political practices. After all, Barbados is the country of the Duffus Commission, the Malone Commission, the St Joseph Hospital Commission, Carsicot, Gems, Hardwood Housing Project, CLICO, Crab Hill Police Station, 3S Steel Solutions, Greenland, et al. The list is virtually endless.
Attorney-at-law and rookie politician contesting the Christ Church East constituency in the next general election, Wilfred Abrahams, recently touched on a sore subject that – perhaps unwitting to him – has been a source of consternation under both the BLP and DLP. Mr Abrahams raised the question of integrity legislation. The Opposition senator called on the Freundel Stuart Government to enact integrity legislation that would force people in public life to declare their assets. While accusing the Government of “corruption and moral decay”, he said the current administration had failed to deliver on its 2007 election campaign of – those two words again – transparency and accountability.
Mr Abrahams noted: “If this Government wanted integrity legislation it would be there already. If this Government wanted to have control over election spending it would be there. If they wanted to have oversight over campaign financing it would be there but there is no political will to do that and you have to ask yourself why. Why is this Government shying away from its promises when those promises are related to accountability, transparency and integrity?”
Mr Abrahams said members of his BLP were ready to declare their assets.
“We are prepared to declare our incomes, we are prepared to not pay lip service and actually implement the integrity legislation promised by this current government . . . I believe that those in this current government need to backtrack, check their tax filings, if they have them, and confess to the people what they had nine years ago in 2007 and what they have now,” he said.
For older, wiser heads Mr Abrahams’ rant resonated like a case of déjà vu; Opposition déjà vu. It had previously been bellowed by the DLP while they were in Opposition. But the goodly lawyer failed to recognize that both parties have had opportunity to enact integrity legislation and both have shied away from it.
There is not much joy in Opposition politics and with general elections due in Barbados in fewer than 10 months, voters can expect political rhetoric to increase ten-fold as politicians seek to sit on the preferred side of the Lower House. They are many who will be swayed and many who will consider the history of the rhetoric. And our politicians will feel quite at home with their eloquent verbosity. After all, it has long been made transparent that we hardly ever hold our politicians accountable.