Barbados and other Caribbean countries are being warned to speed up the addressing of concerns relating to the perception of Government corruption.
This caution came on Tuesday as the issue of transparency was placed under the microscope at the ninth Annual IDB Group Caribbean Civil Society meeting, which was held at the Hilton Resort under the theme Citizen Engagement for Transparency.
During a panel discussion, which focused on How Civil Society can Strengthen Transparency and Reduce Corruption in the Caribbean, officials said while the region had done some work over the years to address corruption, it was simply not enough.
IDB Manager for the Caribbean Therese Turner-Jones urged authorities to come up with policies to ensure a decrease in corruption and an increase in accountability.
Making reference to the Global Corruption Barometer 2019, which showed that 37 per cent of respondents in Barbados believed corruption increased in the last twelve months, the IDB official said this was a cause for concern.
She expressed disappointment that of the countries represented at today’s forum – Barbados, The Bahamas, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Guyana – Barbados was still lagging when it came to the implementation of Freedom of Information legislation.
“It is really important that citizens have the right to ask for information to answer the questions that they need if something is problematic. It is not just about having that legislation in place, the legislation has to be carried out in such a way that it doesn’t take me two years or three years to get the information I am asking for. It really ought to come out quickly,” she said, adding that such legislation was critical to the process of improving the corruption perception.
Turner-Jones lauded Government’s efforts to digitize its processes, noting that a digital platform is really the way to go.
She said based on a recent IDB study on how residents interact with Government, almost 90 per cent of transactions between citizens and Governments were done face-to-face and it often takes more than one visit to get the transactions completed and on average about four hours were spent carrying out one transaction.
Describing it as an “appalling use of time”, Turner-Jones said with a digital platform that situation would improve and it would save time and money.
The IDB official said civil society had a significant role to play in lowering the perception of corruption and increasing transparency, saying she was aware some of them were already “putting out information and putting pressure on Governments to get outcomes”.
Minister in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Investment Marsha Caddle gave the assurance that the Freedom of Information legislation was coming, adding that Government was being very careful to avoid the mistakes made in other countries.
She said Government was first putting various systems in place and “building a culture of sharing, integrity and trust”.
However, Jeanette Calder, Executive Director of the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal – a committee set up to measure accountability in Government in that country – expressed disappointment that Barbados was still behind when it came to the passing of Freedom of Information Act.
“I was very disappointed in finding out that Barbados is not yet in a position to offer this to their citizens,” said Calder, while pointing out that in the case of Jamaica, there has been an improvement in the turnaround time for individuals getting information requested from Government ministries and departments.
She disagreed that systems had to first be put in place and a culture change encouraged, adding that the legislation would be enough to tackle those concerns.
“There is so much that Barbados can benefit from the mistakes that Jamaica and other countries have made. You are actually ahead of the game if you are to provide the citizens with this legislation,” said Calder.
IDB Vice President for Countries Alexandre Meira da Rosa said it was evident that work has been done in the Caribbean and Latin America to improve transparency, digitization of Governments, and citizens’ trust in Government and in each other, but there was still a lot more work to be done.
He said: “Higher levels of trust between citizens and Government call for better policies, better governance and better wellbeing, which have a lot to do with transparency.”