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Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute chairman Richard Joseph: Not much done to tackle corruption
In announcing her party’s plans during the 2010 general election campaign, United National Congress political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar vowed that corruption would not be tolerated. This followed a public outcry over alleged corruption, cost overruns and mismanagement of State funds at the Urban Development Corporation of T&T (Udecott) under the then People’s National Movement government.
Persad-Bissessar pledged to review laws and institutions and implement checks and balances to address white-collar crime. She also promised that former Udecott chairman Calder Hart would account for wanton wastage of taxpayers’ dollars.
Hart left Trinidad for Florida in March 2010 after resigning as chairman of Udecott, the National Insurance Board, National Insurance Property Development Company, the Home Mortgage Bank and the Trinidad and Tobago Mortgage Finance Company.
The possibility of perjury charges against Hart was first raised during the Prof John Uff commission of enquiry into Udecott and the construction sector. Hart denied on two occasions before that enquiry that his wife’s brother and brother-in-law were directors of CH Development, a company which was later sold to Sunway Development, which took over work on the Legal Affairs Tower.
CH Development was awarded a $368 million contract to construct the Ministry of Legal Affairs Tower, in Port-of-Spain, as well as a $300 million contract to install internal fixtures in the building. The first contract was $60 million higher than the next lowest bid.
On the eve of the People’s Partnership’s first anniversary celebrations last May, Makandal Daaga, leader of the National Joint Action Committee, one of the coalition partners, criticised perceived corruption in the country. “In my 50-60 years, I have never heard so much corruption in my land as in the last few days. There is too much corruption and people are stealing money as though they invented it,” Daaga said.
Last December, the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) chairman Richard Joseph revealed that Trinidad and Tobago ranked 91st out of 183 countries, with a score of 3.2 out of ten, in a Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The rating was T&T’s lowest in five years on Transparency International’s CPI. In 2010, T&T had a 3.6 CPI score and ranked 73rd out of 178 countries.
Joseph described the rating as a “precipitous drop” compared to 2010 and attributed it to the continued presence of Works and Transport Minister Jack Warner’s in the Cabinet, amid allegations of bribery. Joseph said despite promises made on the campaign trail not much was done to tackle corruption.
A Trinidad and Tobago Guardian poll conducted last month by the ANSA McAL Psychological Research Centre, University of the West Indies, St Augustine, raised the question of government’s handling of corruption and white-collar crime. A random sample was conducted on 512 respondents, comprising persons 18 years and over.
Those questioned were asked: “How do you rate the Government’s handling of corruption/ white-collar crime?” To this question, 60 per cent of respondents rated the Government’s handling of corruption/ white-collar crime as “poor”. Specifically, 21 per cent said “extremely poor”, 39 per cent “poor”, 30 per cent “fair”, nine per cent “good” and one per cent “excellent.”
Across ethnic groups, Indo-Trinidadians (49 per cent) were less likely than Afro-Trinidadians (69 per cent) and mixed persons (66 per cent) to rate the Government’s handling of corruption/white-collar crime as “poor”. Indo-Trinidadians were more likely to indicate “fair” with 38 per cent Indo-Trinidadians, 26 per cent Mixed and 25 per cent Afro-Trinidadians giving that response.
Persons giving a “good” rating were 13 per cent Indo-Trinidadians, eight per cent mixed and six per cent Afro-Trinidadians. Analysing responses by sex showed similar findings for males and females. Specifically, 61 per cent males and 58 per cent females said “poor”.
A “fair” rating was given by 35 per cent females and 27 per cent males. Persons stating “good” were 12 per cent males and seven per cent females. Analysing responses by age showed that persons of the 41-50 age group were more likely than persons of the 51-plus age group to rate the Government’s handling of corruption/ white-collar crime as “poor”.
Specifically, 60 per cent of the 18-30, 62 per cent 31-40, 70 per cent 41-50 and 58 per cent 51-plus age group said “poor”. A 14 per cent difference was observed between the 51-plus and 41-50 age groups for the response “fair”. Precisely, 30 per cent of the 18-30, 29 per cent 31-40, 20 per cent 41-50 and 34 per cent 51-plus age group said “fair”.
Persons stating “good” were ten per cent of the 18-30, nine per cent 31-40, ten per cent 41-50 and eight per cent 51-plus age group. Exploring responses by education showed a 13 per cent difference between primary and secondary educated persons’ rating of the government’s handling of corruption/ white-collar crime as “poor”.
Specifically, 64 per cent secondary, 58 per cent technical/vocational, 58 per cent tertiary and 51 per cent of primary educated persons said “poor.” Persons stating “fair” were 42 per cent primary, 31 per cent tertiary, 29 per cent technical/vocational and 26 per cent secondary educated persons.
A “good” rating was given by 13 per cent technical/vocational, 11 per cent tertiary, ten per cent secondary and seven per cent primary educated persons. Chairman of the TTTI Richard Joseph said the results of the poll confirmed the widely held view that corruption continues to be a major problem in our society.
Joseph said while the TTTI acknowledges that some blame will fall on specific persons in the current People’s Partnership Government, he believes T&T has to shoulder some of the blame. He said while some of us participate in corrupt activity, others remain silent and refuse to take action.
Joseph said corruption flourishes and is encouraged by a wide range of behaviours many people seek to trivialise. “They are looked upon as not really being corrupt.” When a person breaks a traffic lights, storms a fete, or fails to do their duties on the job for which they are paid, Joseph said, this supports a culture of people “getting through” at any cost.
Anyone who practices or accepts this behaviour contributes to a climate of corruption, or at least the tolerance of corruption, he said. “The effects are there for all to see. Note the national psyche of hopelessness arising from the belief by most people that wrongdoers are never held to account for their misdeeds.”
Joseph said when one looks at the country’s deteriorating infrastructure, poor schools, inadequate hospital care and the sense of unfairness and dispossession felt by the poor, it is distressing to think of money that could have been used to improve the lives of citizens being stolen by corrupt persons.
Joseph said blaming our leaders is not enough because to arrest the decline, we have to start with ourselves. “That is not to say that we do not also need political will and strong leadership. Strong leadership and political will is needed to put an end to the abuses that take place and to ensure wrongdoers are brought to justice.”
Laws not enforced
Joseph said while there are laws, if they are not properly and fairly enforced we will go nowhere. “We may never stamp out corruption entirely, but we can make sure the risks and penalties of being caught serve as a strong deterrent to behaviour that is widely seen as unacceptable.”
While there are steps that can be taken to fight corruption, Joseph said government should follow the political action taken by several of our neighbouring countries, which has led to better scores in the CPI. “Political will is needed to change the public procurement regime, and ensure the changes are effective. Political will is needed to impose controls on election financing and manage the expectations of party supporters.
“Positive change in these two areas, though only a start, will be big steps in the right direction,” he said. According to Joseph, while the results of the poll are an indictment of the government and our leaders, we all have to take responsibility for making changes that will put an end to widespread corruption and create a better T&T.
“It is said that those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it and, in that context, TTTI repeats its calls for Government to publish the reports of past Commissions of Enquiry into corruption and to carefully examine and implement the recommendations where appropriate.”
While there are no reported cases of white-collar crime in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service serious crime statistics Web site, it showed that for 2011 there were 152 reported fraud offences, with the highest figure of 22 offences recorded in June.
Only 79 of these offences were detected, with December recording the lowest detection rate with one case being solved. July saw the highest figure of 14 cases being solved. In 2010, there were 159 reports. For the months of January and February of 2012 there were seven and 15 reports respectively.
How do you rate the Government's handling of corruption/white-collar crime? (by ethnicity)
Afro-Trinidadian Indo-Trinidadian Mixed
Extremely poor / poor 69% 49% 66%
Fair 25% 38% 26%
Good / excellent 6% 13% 8%
How do you rate the Government's handling of corruption/white-collar crime?
Extremely Poor 21%
How do you rate the Government's handling of corruption/white-collar crime? (by education)
Primary Secondary Technical University
Extremely poor / Poor 51% 64% 58% 58%
Fair 42% 26% 29% 31%
Good / Excellent 7% 10% 13% 11%
How do you rate the Government's handling of corruption/white-collar crime? (by education)
18-30 31-40 41-50 51-plus
Extremely poor / Poor 60% 62% 70% 58%
Fair 30% 29% 20% 34%
Good / Excellent 10% 9% 10% 8%
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