As the House of Assembly debated the long-delayed Prevention of Corruption Bill, two MPs suggested that Barbadians have to see the laws in action and understand what they are fully about in order for them to work.
St. Thomas MP and Minister of People Empowerment and Elder Affairs Cynthia Forde declared: “I have always tried to be upright and honest in life, even before I went into politics because in my time people worked honestly and diligently to achieve whatever they acquired in life, even if it took years in some instances. But now, I believe that cultural penetration has changed that, so young people are in a conundrum where they feel they can do illicit things and earn money.”
She said Government has to reassure the public that all political figures are not corrupt and suggested a public education campaign.
She said: “It is important for this Government to explain the roles and responsibilities of ministers and Members of Parliament. First of all, ministers do not handle any money; the Permanent Secretary in the ministry is who determines how money is spent in any given ministry and after we have done all the necessary checks regarding whatever transactions have taken place, we then bring the paper to Cabinet.”
She also made the point that contrary to popular belief, corruption was not limited to the political class. “We know of senior citizens getting robbed by lawyers, doctors, religious leaders and their families, and we also often hear of commercial bank workers stealing from dormant accounts,” she declared.
MP for St. Philip North, Dr. Sonia Browne, said all too often “small men” paid for crimes perpetrated by those in the higher echelons of society. She said: “It often seems that ‘lighter coloured’ people get away with criminal activities while those like us sit in jail awaiting trial. We also have a situation where people fear to “blow the whistle” on corrupt practices they may have observed, fearing victimization and other reprisals, so we need laws in place to protect whistleblowers.”
Dr. Browne said it is imperative that the new anti-corruption laws are not only passed but enforced. Citing an example, she said: “I serve on the Pharmacy Council, and sometimes we have instances where over the counter stores are selling items that should only be available via prescription. We stage raids and seize the items, but a week later they are back on the shelf.
“The laws need teeth. We had instances where two ministers were called to give evidence before the Public Accounts Committtee and they refused to show up, and too many cases where people were given contracts to do jobs and carried out shoddy work, or money allocated to certain jobs went missing and was never traced. If we are serious about fighting corruption, we need to make some public examples, and in that way we can rebuild trust.” (SB)