Corruption has been a buzzword of late and all agree on this one point that it must be stamped out.
The Government has declared from the outset its intention to wrestle the scourge to the ground with Prime Minister Mia Mottley even offering the guilty a “come to Jesus moment” and proposed tough new legislation to get to the heart of the pervasive problem.
For anxious Bajans, it can’t come soon enough.
With damning reports of questionable deals, costly contracts, missing money, bribes and kickbacks and other glaring anomalies, the public has been demanding that action be taken against offenders, particularly those in public office, in hope that they face charges to pay for their careless, unethical actions.
But alas, while the Government has been making much noise about fighting corruption, in reality, there has been no major action to shout about.
And increasingly, disappointed citizens believe the guilty will continue in their ways and escape prosecution.
But yesterday’s revelations from Attorney General Dale Marshall in many respects point fingers right back at the same public, clamouring for the unscrupulous to pay for their costly misdeeds.
At a seminar themed Guided by Integrity: Moving Towards Good Governance and Reduced Corruption hosted by the Barbados Chamber of Industry and Commerce yesterday, Attorney General Dale Marshall revealed that a number of business people in Barbados have been confessing privately to having paid bribes amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars to public officials.
The catch though – they have refused to give official statements to the Royal Barbados Police Force.
Said Marshall, the response was “‘but I can’t do that’, ‘I still have to live here’, I still have to do business here’, ‘my children still go to school at this place and that place’, and excuse after excuse”.
“We are moved to the point now where we sometimes feel like saying ‘do not waste our time’. If you are prepared to come forward and say that you did it, then help us to root it out.”
Herein lies the problem. Barbados is a society of talkers.
Of course In a small society where everybody is either related by blood, or otherwise, goes to school, sits in pews, or works together, no one is prepared to come forward for fear of being branded a snitch or corrupt.
While there’s no doubt that most of us want to see the back of corruption, simply making wild accusations and waving documents will not solve the problem. It requires evidence to arrest this culture of corruption in public life that has become so deeply rooted in our society.
Too many of us turn a blind eye, some of us shrug off the issue and accept that all public officials are corrupt and that “some corruption” by our favourites is okay.
Nevermind the fact that corruption destroys a society, particularly when those invested with public trust divert public resources into private hands. We all suffer.
As Kofi Annan, the late secretary-general of the United Nations once said: “Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign aid and investment.”
Therefore widespread zero tolerance is needed to prevent unscrupulous people from milking public projects and taxpayers’ money for their own gain.
We must be prepared to put private gain over national interest, particularly when so much is at stake.
Prime Minister Mottley this evening proposed that whistleblowers should be given an incentive to come forward and reveal the names of persons involved in corruption.
And Government may have to look at putting the necessary framework in place so those with information would feel comfortable revealing it to the relevant authorities.
An idea worthy of consideration.
Still, Barbadians from top to bottom must get real. We need the will, conviction and courage to stamp out the culture of corruption. But that can only come from citizens who put their country’s interests above their own.