One regional government minister, who has admitted to refusing bribes, is warning of the need for better responses from governments in the Caribbean to the “terrible distrust” exhibited by residents.
Minister of Finance in Trinidad and Tobago Colm Imbert said while he was unable to speak for other countries, he was aware of an extremely aggressive social media presence in the twin-island republic accusing public officials of corruption.
He said too often when governments are taken to task by residents or organisations about perceived corrupt practices associated with national projects, the response was not adequate to quell those fears.
And Imbert said it was time that governments offer their citizens adequate and accurate information when it came to public investment projects.
He was speaking on Wednesday during an online session where officials of the Development Bank of Latin America presented the 2019 economic and development report entitled Integrity in Public Policy: Keys to Prevent Corruption.
“There is this terrible distrust of politicians. I guess it is just par for the course. One of the things we have discovered is that the way to deal with citizen awareness is not awareness or sensitisation to corruption, because there is this view that we are all corrupt because they are always accusing us of corruption. It is not that, it is the response, and this is what I have learned in my 29 years – it is not what they say, it is how you respond to the accusations,” explained Imbert.
“Too often, I find governments just don’t say anything, they don’t respond and say it doesn’t matter, and then perceptions of corruption become endemic.
“The way we can deal with this is to provide better information to the public about procurement, about the decisions of government, about controversial matters, provide as much information as possible as often as possible, so there is another side of the story. If you don’t do that, the untruths will take root,” he warned.
Imbert, who admitted that he has been approached before to take a bribe, said this was something he “faced all the time”. While suggesting the offers come from the private sector, he did not go into detail.
“When people approach me, I say ‘please, go away. Get lost.
Don’t come by me with that nonsense at all’. In fact, I remember many years ago, I was accused of being too stupid to be corrupt. In other words, I didn’t know how to take a bribe. This is serious you know. So the private sector has its part to play. It is not just that we need to incentivise integrity, they need to understand it is the only way to do things,” he said.
Meanwhile, Barbados’ Minister in the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Investment Marsha Caddle said it was important that government gained the trust of the population as it embarked on projects and implemented various programmes, so as to dispel any perception of corruption.
“Trust is very important. In my experience, in the last two-and-a-half years of my administration, we haven’t been able to do anything without an atmosphere of trust that allowed Barbadians to come with us on a journey of economic reform, major structural reforms and major changes, because they believed we were on this journey to make their lives better,” she said.
“So a big part of the reason we cannot allow the integrity agenda to fall away, even in the context of COVID-19, is that it is key to making sure that trust remains throughout everything you do. You cannot do anything without that,” Caddle insisted, adding that “a big part” of the conversation around integrity should be driven by residents and the private sector.