The trial of a former minister of the Government of Barbados is an unpleasant event. Following the former minister’s indictment on money-laundering charges, the Attorney General appeared to warn people who thought that they had a responsibility to reveal corrupt practices, that there was no protection for such whistle-blowers in Barbados. The Commissioner of Police also revealed that there were no plans to investigate this specific matter since no request had been received by the police to investigate.
These passive reactions can explain why, despite politicians regularly making accusations of corruption against each other, and claiming to have provable evidence for prosecution when campaigning for our vote, and despite the Auditor General presenting evidence of possible corruption every year in his annual report, charges are never brought against anyone in Barbados.
Based on the current trends, the only time that a case of corruption will likely be brought in Barbados, is if there is no evidence of corruption, and the only aim is to embarrass political opponents.
It is understandably why we do not want any of our politicians to be brought before the courts to answer bribery or corruption charges. Corruption trials are messy affairs. If the receivers are tried, then the payers will likely be revealed. Based on the experiences of other countries, simply charging and convicting people for corruption does not stop subsequent bribes from being paid and received, since the system that encourages corrupt practices has not been changed. The private sector can still justify paying bribes as a cost of doing business, while the receivers can still justify it as the cost for certain business to participate in the national economy.
Charging people with corruption increases the risk that the transaction will be made public. In business, the normal consequence of an increased risk is to charge a higher cost to compensate for that increased risk. Charging politicians with corruption can also lead to speculation that every procurement decision within that ministry had a bribery component.
When Government purchases have bribery components, then the public must pay this additional cost of doing business. For the benefit of any who may still be unaware, on construction projects globally, the corruption component is typically ten per cent to 30 per cent of the cost of projects with no effective oversight. The bribe is normally recovered from the public through increased taxation.
Politicians are skilled at the art of getting over-taxed populations to feel grateful for the privilege of paying additional taxes. A typical method is to identify an essential service that the public is already paying multiple times over the actual cost of a well-managed service. The public is then informed that additional taxes are required to maintain that service.
Since most people want to maintain healthcare, education, sanitation, water, police and other important services, then they willingly pay what is demanded. However, this system of extracting additional taxes relies on political operatives to denigrate anyone who happens to question the necessity of the additional taxes.
Is there an effective solution to get corrupt individuals to repay us the amounts they forced us to pay through increased taxes, without a messy spectacle of a trial? Fortunately, there is. Solutions Barbados has designed a very simple, very economical but highly effective system to achieve both objectives.
First, a three-month amnesty allows any person who received or paid a bribe to refund taxpayers the full value of the bribe. Thereafter, anyone with knowledge of corrupt practices can confidentially report them and be rewarded with the full value of the bribe. However, both payers and receivers must then pay a fine of ten times the value of the bribe.
This fair method does not require the high costs to manage the highly complex Integrity in Public life Bill, with its glaring loopholes for guilty individuals, unfortunate removal of protections for innocent people, and political management that leaves it highly vulnerability to partisan political control.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and the founder of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at NextParty246@gmail.com