I have been taking note of the campaign against corruption being waged by Integrity Group Barbados (IGB), and I have no quarrel with their calling for action to be taken to end corrupt practices in our country.
The truth, though, is that corruption has always been a fact of life in both the public and public sectors of the society and has manifested itself at a national and an individual level. We can and should try to minimize it, but once sinful human nature remains untransformed by Christ’s redemptive power, we are not going to be able to eliminate it regardless of whether the DLP, BLP, Solutions Barbados. or the UPP holds the reins of government.
But for what it is worth, the group should keep fighting, provided it does not give the impression that only those associated with the ruling party are tarred with the corruption brush. In any case, it is easy to make allegations, but I am yet to be shown proof of widespread malfeasance in government. Unless we can produce evidence of corruption, we may simply be engaging in rumour mongering with the resultant damage to people’s reputations.
In one of the newspapers published on Sunday, November 26, the IGB listed a number of ways an incumbent party can abuse state resources for their electoral campaign, but I did not see any suggestions of how opposition parties can engage in practices designed to give them an unfair advantage in an election.
The question of manipulation of state media is an interesting one. I seem to remember that CBC broadcasts advertisements and statements from both major political parties during the election season. I also observe that, when reporting news from parliament at 7 p.m., the station goes to great length to broadcast excerpts from government and opposition benches as well as from the two independent members. I think, however, that CBC ought to try persuading political parties to participate in television debates at election time.
While the state-owned media is castigated for displaying bias, I notice that other radio stations, which are barely able to conceal their anti-government stance, remain relatively unscathed. What is the effect on an electorate when an opposition party is always favourably portrayed and its flaws glossed over? And what about newspapers engaging in selective reporting to paint government in a negative light? The IGB must condemn all practices which betray lack of fairness, balance and integrity.
Moving on with my response to the IGB list, I know of no “misuse of administrative resources like printeries.” Indeed, one of the charges often levelled at governing parties is that their manifestoes were printed overseas, thereby depriving local printeries and Bajan workers of income.
I will not be party to the implied allegation that the police and other authorities are biased in “the approval of requests for political assembly permits.” In my experience, all political parties in Barbados are given permission, once adequate notice is given, to hold meetings, rallies and marches. I hope we are not confusing Barbados with some other Caribbean countries. The IGB should not be guilty of crying wolf when there is none.
Need I remind the integrity group that governments all over the world undertake projects when they deem fit, sometimes close to an election. We can argue about the timing of these projects, but we are unlikely to be able to prevent them regardless of which party is in power. What we should require of the government of the day are transparency and accountability.
There is another point raised by IGB that I wish to comment on. I am not aware of any credible evidence that state funds are used to finance electoral campaigns. What, however, is widely known is that the business class pumps money into campaigns of political parties, both governing and opposition with the hope of influencing critical decisions once the party being backed wins the election. One can bet that in an election year when there is a feeling that the opposition party stands a good chance of being victorious at the polls, business dollars will be poured into the coffers of that party.
With regard to public officers being used as campaign staff, members of IGB must know that some of these officers work for both major political parties. What is more, it is alleged that a few of them even try to sabotage the work of government with the aim of making the governing party look bad. I think all of us should urge public servants to behave in a professional manner at all times.
And now to the vexing issue of vote buying. I roundly condemn the offering of money for votes, but I think the impact this has on election results is grossly overstated. Our wise elders used to chant “eat them out, drink them out and vote them out.” That meant that voters would take what politicians had to offer and then vote for the candidate of their choice.
In the case of today’s young people, that may mean not voting at all. I have been working as a presiding officer at elections since 1981, and I can assure the public that only God and the elector know whom the voter casts his ballot for when he/she enters the voting booth. The real point is that a politician can foolishly pass over money or other gifts to voters but he has no control over what those voters do with their secret ballots.
Our elections are fair and free from fear, and no politician can coerce an elector to vote for him/her. Those seekers of political office who fail to grasp that fact are likely to end up very disappointed. So, let us not get too carried away with this business of vote buying. I consider it immoral and those caught in the act should be prosecuted, but it is not likely to make much difference to elections in Barbados.
Finally, on the question of Integrity legislation, laws to curb corruption are necessary, but we need to exercise care lest we deter well-meaning individuals, who merely want to give back, from serving. I doubt whether competent persons would want to serve on Boards if the financial details of close family members have to be declared. Most members of school Boards, for example, serve for a mere pittance and would hardly want to put families through such a hassle.
I represent the Trade Union Movement on one of these and I would certainly withdraw my services if declaration of family assets becomes a condition. In my humble opinion, integrity legislation needs to be targeted at those whose actions can make a decisive difference in the social and economic life of the country.
Notwithstanding my comments, I wish the Integrity Group Barbados well, especially since one of the members is one of my former teachers, whom I know to be a gentleman of integrity.