After having expressed public concern for a number of election cycles now the voters of Barbados seem to be getting some movement on the issue of perceived corruption at the level of politics in Barbados.
However, as we expand and deepen the national discussion about corruption, I want to suggest that perhaps there are other levels of corruption which we must accept and come to terms with.
First, we as Barbadians remain averse to confrontation and accountability. We feel that people who want to explore difficult or complicated issues are trouble makers. I am surprised, for example, that we remain mute in the face of the sex abuse scandal going on in the international Catholic church. I cannot suggest that there have been any abuses in either the Barbadian Diocese or further afield in the Commonwealth Caribbean. However, I think that given the disproportionately high levels of child abuse across the post-colonial societies of the Caribbean, the Catholic church should have been willing to engage its congregations and the wider society about the issue.
Had any of the priests or rings discovered in the international world been connected in any way to local or regional churches? What of the specific case of vulnerable countries like Haiti? In order for corruption to thrive it has to be given enough darkness and enough encouragement to thrive. Corruption not only needs willing parties to the giving and receiving of bribes. More significantly corruption requires people who are not involved but who are also not willing to say anything in order for it to thrive.
We must not only expect that the disclosure of incoming and outgoing assets for people who hold high office. This does not fix the problem of what I call intentional or behavioural low-grade corruption. What do I mean?
There are some civil servants who have worked out that in order for corrupt politicians or business people to be facilitated they will need support services. Civil servants willing to be ‘on the take’ find people needing their services, and in this way, there is intentional corruption. The other type of rule-bending, I think, is entirely more benign. There are some civil servants who are so locked into the mini-fiefdoms of their jobs that they are unwilling to change their methods, answer any questions about their functioning or share any information.
In this closed method of practice, thousands sometimes millions of tax payers’ funds are not accounted for by adequate means. I am not suggesting that anything sinister many be happening. These civil servants are usually longer in the teeth. They are the ones who have been in service for 46 and more years. They are the ones firmly stuck in the 1970s and 1980s, who do not realize that there is completely no need to make the Government pay for official government email portals and then paper-based method of data transfer like snail mail.
It is a healthy and wholesome exercise that took place among high-level government officials in the Senate Chamber recently. The deliberation on integrity and anti-corruption legalisation stands to move Barbados into higher brackets of ease and strength of doing business. More importantly, perhaps is the potential of the exercise to recalibrate our own expectations and practices.
Barbadians are good at seeing corruption when it is on high-ranking politicians but when it is on themselves or close associates it becomes invisible. Corruption is as simple as pushing a matter aside or suddenly not knowing how to move something through the system when the parties involved are friends or people not to be offended. It is allowing a person ‘a bligh’ based on a lodge connection or an old-school connection.
It is good that we have finally gotten to the point of discussing corruption in our system. It is embedded and in many cases is as old as the parliamentary system itself. There is a culture that supports corruption. It will not be a simplistic or short process to bring Barbados around. The signal to turn it around though is a good one. It is one in which every Barbadian has work to do.
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)