Recent events have caused Barbadians to focus much attention on corruption in our country. Unfortunately, discussion has been limited to politicians and other holders of high office. A closer examination, however, will reveal that across all occupations and socio-economic classes, dishonesty is prevalent. From the treasurer in a small organization to the wealthiest top executive, greed leads to theft.
Unless members of clubs are vigilant, some of those responsible for handling finances behave as though the money is theirs to spend. Artisans and other skilled workers overcharge customers, especially those who do not know the going rate. On the other hand, some of the most honest of our self-employed persons perform work and then have to spend weeks and months chasing after clients who hide or find excuses for not paying. I know of a computer technician who set up an entire network for a medium-sized business two years ago and is still owed half of the money the two parties agreed upon.
It seems as though workers believe that wherever they work, they must take products or produce from their workplace. Thus, some employees of supermarkets are unable to resist the temptation to put food items in their bags, while cashiers in all types of businesses seem determined to steal cash. Of course, all of us have heard stories of bank employees being dismissed for acts of dishonesty.
In recent years, quite a few car owners have suffered from theft of their cars. Criminals would hardly steal vehicles unless they are sure that they can get the car parts sold. Who are the buyers? Clearly, some Barbadians have no difficulty buying stolen goods once they are far cheaper than the legal alternatives.
But stealing and other corrupt acts are not limited to the so-called ‘small man’. Many businessmen grow rich by exploiting workers and engaging in price gouging. For example, when the price of oil increased astronomically a few years ago, we were told that prices had to be increased; however, when the oil prices declined by more than fifty per cent, there was no corresponding decrease in the cost of goods to the consumer. The same is likely to be true with the abolition of the NSRL. One can easily predict that consumers will not see any real reduction in the price of items, particularly in the supermarket. Enriching oneself at the expense of the poor and vulnerable is a form of corruption. Stealing does not only take the form of burglaries or larceny.
Nor is the church exempt, particularly those churches in which the pastors, apostles and self-styled bishops are accountable to no one else but themselves. They fleece their gullible congregations in the name of a Jesus who would probably whip them for making His Father’s house “a den of thieves”. Perhaps the time has come for a Ministry of Ecclesiastical Affairs to be empowered to issue licences for those wishing to operate churches, and where there is no governing body to oversee these churches, there should be a requirement for financial statements to be filed annually. We cannot sit idly by and watch simple folk being exploited by copy cats of American fake evangelical ministers.
Stories have, for many years, been spread about politicians and senior public officers getting “kick-backs” from the award of large contracts. I have no doubt that some of the rumours have some truth. What I do know is that these top officials are products of a society whose citizens see very little wrong in people “seeing for themselves”.
Until we clean up our act in every nook and cranny, as well as the heights and terraces in Barbados, we are going to be plagued by corruption that will continue to cost our country dearly.
(John Goddard is a retired teacher at St George Secondary School and former senior teacher at Harrison College.)