Those residing on opposite sides of Barbados’ political divide will view the fall from grace of former Government minister Donville Inniss with obviously different emotions. But those whose heads are not buried either on Roebuck Street or George Street and are willing to learn lessons will take them and be guided in their future endeavours, especially when holding public office or trust.
Social media has already exposed the nature of many of us, who though having the right to criticise, condemn or scorn, have sounded as though one individual’s dismal descent has occasioned their own glorious ascent or some personal victory. We choose neither to celebrate, excuse nor scorn but to learn from the obvious lessons that have emerged.
One of the factors gathered from Inniss’ trial and conviction which he addressed during the sentencing stage was that of companies and individuals in Barbados providing politicians with funding and gifts, which, unlike other jurisdictions, have scarce legally enshrined transparency and accountability laws attached. Companies and individuals frequently make contributions to political campaigns, constituency branches or to politicians directly for use in their respective constituencies without any mechanisms to ensure that the funding is publicly known, or to allay fears that some favour is to be returned at a later date.
Perhaps it is time that Government, rather than spew empty rhetoric to the gallery about integrity, accountability and transparency, undertake to introduce measures where all monetary donations and gifts to public officials in their public capacity are done before the glare of the media, and therefore the public of Barbados.
In this way, subsequent awarding of overpriced tenders to individuals or companies, contracts awarded to family members, boyfriends or future husbands, will be more readily exposed and scrutinised by the general public.
Clandestine relationships between big businesses and politicians are commonplace and have thrived in post-independent Barbados with impunity. Both Democratic Labour Party and Barbados Labour Party politicians have benefited from publicly unseen largesse from companies and individuals over the decades and John Public has never been any wiser as to the subsequent favours that might have accrued. The interlocking relationships are such that mainstream media have sometimes been accused of not reporting faithfully on these relationships – if discovered – because frequently their advertising dollar is obtained from some of these same companies and big corporations.
One of the most telling observations made by Inniss on Tuesday was the relationship between Government – through the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation (BIDC) – and the Insurance Corporation of Barbados Limited (ICBL). He said: “There are no specific laws regarding the financing of political campaigns in Barbados.
As such, politicians invariably engage with and have their activities financed by and supported by private persons and corporate entities. The fact that the ICBL continues to be the principal insurer of most Government-related entities in Barbados is instructive.”
Now, here we have a situation where Inniss has been found guilty of money laundering and this is linked to ascribed bribery payments received from ICBL to maintain its stranglehold on profitable government business.
The excreta hit the fan in 2018 but to date that insurance company is still in bed with Government as far as insurance coverage is concerned. Does no one find it passing strange that if a company has been accused of, linked to, or confirmed [according to the US judicial system] as having bribed a Government minister, that steps were not taken or have been taken by Government to disassociate itself from the said company?
In most jurisdictions – other than Barbados – this would have raised not only eyebrows but apolitical social commentators would be questioning loudly the continued relationship between ICBL and BIDC. But such queries are asked in the real world.
There are two many flaws and loopholes in our systems often exploited by many in key positions. Perhaps, Barbadians now need to pay closer attention to the proverbial fine writing, or to discourage artifice, insist with their voices and their votes that those fortunate enough to ascend the steps of the House of Assembly, put in place measures to ensure that all monetary donations and acquisitions in public office, outside the salaries for which they work, can be easily traced and publicly accounted for and indeed taxed if required.
The former Government minister has maintained his innocence throughout the trial and has given notice of appeal. It is again curious that those among us who frequently question the US judicial system and point to reversals in previous decisions, the quality of probative evidence, the practice of restriction of certain types of disclosure evidence, now suddenly have complete confidence and faith in America’s judiciary. Politics can be unkind to its practitioners just as it is immensely beneficial to them.
However, some who care little or nothing for Donville Inniss, ICBL, BIDC or any of the parties to this sordid affair, but view dispassionately the law as it relates to bribery and money laundering, have pointed out that a jury convicted an accused of money laundering in circumstances where bribery was alleged but not proven or substantiated by the key Barbadian witness. Indeed, it has also been pointed out that bribery was not even among the offences for which the former minister was indicted.
We are told that the proven movement of money in the American locus in quo and the speculative disbursement of funds in Barbados, were skillfully combined to spell guilty.
We will not debate those matters but leave them for those better attuned to the law to make their determinations whenever this unfinished legal battle returns for its final salvo.