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Barbadian Taxpayers foot Corruption Bill

17 May

This news first emerged earlier this month, but it must be repeated. The hope is that we stop paying attention, that these matters become so “everyday” so “run of the mill” that we start to believe that things can not change. We are referring to the Auditor General’s report that highlights the depth to which corruption has reached in Barbados. The focus on corruption has traditionally been on the political leaders in the country.

The Auditor General of Barbados Mr. Leigh Trotman has turned the glare of his spotlight on some staffers of the Electrical Engineering Department who in his view claimed “exorbitant” over time rates when compared with the usual overtime rates in Government. In his 2009 report he indicated that some staffers claimed as much as $1, 800 and others $2,500 per night during the last election, bringing the total claim to some $48, 500.

Mr. Trotman said that he also wanted a thorough investigation into how several imported vehicles were able to leave the Port without paying the duties necessary. The duties amount to some half a million dollars.

Somehow Barbadians do not seem to get it that the taxpayers foot the bill for this corruption and if the Government coffers run low because of this leakage it will ultimately result in higher taxes.

The list keeps getting longer and longer of the Government agencies where it has become quite the norm for individuals to pay officials something extra for doing their job or where they allow Barbadians to escape paying the taxes that are due under the law.

Are Barbadians being treated equally under the law?

21 Apr

Dorothy Height a female voice in the USA Civil Rights movement died at the age of 98. She fought for racial and gender equality

There have been two recent gun related incidents in Barbados that have raised a great deal of debate in Barbados. The debate has not subsided as yet. The first concerned two members of Parliament (Dale Marshall and David Estwick), one of which, David Estwick has been accused of assault. This particular issue got side tracked by a belief that the Speaker had jurisdiction over criminal offences in Barbados as long as they occurred within the precincts of Parliament. Commonsense would suggest that this is untrue even if one were unschooled in the law. The second incident had to do with the death of a youngster. Everyone sympathises with the loss of a child in whatever circumstances. Many Barbadians do not know what happened in the house of the Bjerkhamns that day but a child is dead and this could throw up a situation of mere accident, manslaughter or even murder. We do not know and it is certainly not the point of this piece to speculate on the circumstances.

The issue that concerns a number of Barbadians is process. In the first situation the Police should have been present at the time of the incident in Parliament. They should have been there because it is the practice that they should be there to protect all those visiting and working in the Parliament. The alleged offence was never investigated in order to determine whether or not charges should be filed. In the Bjerkhamn episode the Police delayed in filing any charges and then the public was informed that the suspect (forgive us if that term is not appropriate) had left the island by private jet. Well some argue that he was not charged so he could leave. Many a young male in Barbados have expressed the view that they would never have been allowed to go to their child’s funeral.

What is it that the ordinary Barbadian is concerned about? Individuals can relate incidents where simply because they were present at an incident they were charged and held over night. Even though one would not recommend this approach as the norm, the approach taken to these two incidents must suggest that there is some inequality of treatment. These are not only legal matters they are societal matters. A cursory glance at our newspapers would suggest that it is only working class Barbadians and tourists that are ever involved in the drug trade whether as consumers or retailers.

Are Barbadians being treated equally under the law? These are questions similar to those that were raised in the USA Civil Rights movement. Yet in 2010 Barbadians wonder if there is still anything to fight for, whether there is still some noble cause. Well there is!! While there has always been a suspicion that there is inequality of treatment, these two incidents seem to confirm what had been suspected for a long time. The leadership in the country needs to provide us with some explanation. It would be unwise to allow these feelings of inequality to fester in the breasts of our people for too long.

Lessons on Corruption from Rio Tinto?

31 Mar

ALLEGIANCE has sounded the warning on more than one occasion about the negative impact that corruption is destined to have on this country. For many years we have had a civil service that believed that it had a duty to protect the public purse. Now it seems as those that have taken the view that they need to intercept the monies destined for the coffers of the Government. Corruption is becoming endemic. It is affecting from the largest to the smallest contracts and involves individuals at the highest and the lowest levels in the public and the private sector.

A recent report coming out on Afghanistan suggests that corruption has resulted in the much needed aid destined for Afghanistan poor has been diverted into the hands of corrupt officials. This is one of the worse case scenarios of what could happen to a country when it allow corruption to get out of hand.In the news recently we also see how the Chinese Courts have dealt with four Rio Tinto Executives who were charged for receiving bribes and also for selling trade secrets. The sentences ranged from seven to fourteen years. Much has been said about the way that the Chinese Courts addressed this matter. Views have been expressed that there is a lack of transparency and that the sentences were much too harsh. The defendants had admitted their guilt on the bribery charges.

Our concern must be the issues that this raises for Barbados. From a social perspective – does Barbados have the will to jail corrupt officials and business people? Barbadians have got used to seeing boys from the block behind bars but they have found it difficult to see a man in a suit and tie under lock and key. Is this the reason that little has been done to put legislation in place against corrupt practices? It has always been the case that it is the powerful that determine exactly which areas of social policy are actually reduced to writing. It is perhaps when we start to answer some of these questions that we might actually enter into a meaningful debate at what is clearly a reluctance to deal with corruption in Barbados.

Corruption on the Rise

27 Feb

Allegiance is seeking your views on (1) whether corruption is on the rise in Barbados (2) what we can do to address this problem.

Corruption is not limited to politicians and it now seems as though the most junior of public officials are getting into the act. Neither is it a feature of any particular administration. In our casual discussions some individuals think that we do not have a serious problem. We are not sure that this is true (according to Barbadian standards). We certainly can not judge ourselves by the standards of others – we have never done so.

This is a most serious issue and we look forward to your participation.

The Cost of the Vote

5 Feb

Many Barbadians will argue that the purchase of votes is a part of our political culture and tradition. It is called “corned beef and biscuit” politics. This type of politics comes in many forms. Let us not only talk about the family that awaits the $1000 before it will vote; the boys on the block that are given anywhere from $10,000 – $30,000; the voters that get $100 as they are taken to the polls; hampers for those who are clearly not in need; the key men that get $10,000. There are also those that are promised large contracts and get them and then there are those that are promised smaller contracts – as it befits their station.

This is where perhaps it becomes a little unclear. Afterall there is none of us who does not believe that individuals should be given opportunity. It is also true that you will know the talents of the individuals that are closest to you and you might give them an opportnity. It is also likely that those to whom you have given opportunity would seek to help you when the time comes.

And what then of universal adult suffrage? Are we now turning back the hands of time, where participating in this democracy was dependent on having access to money? Are we back to the days where “representing the country” was tied to ownership of land, colour or class? Have we now reverted to the stage where political power lies in the hands of those with money because they can now purchase the votes of the masses? It would seem to me that once you have sold your vote the transaction is complete and there is nothing more that you are entitled to ask of the purchaser.

On January 21, 2010 the United States Supreme Court found that restrictions placed on corporate funding of political campaigns was in breach of their constitutional right to free speech. Naturally this has caused considerable anguish amongst those who support efforts to preserve real democracy.

In the United States they speak of campaign finance reform. In Barbados we do not speak of it at all. It is a problem that is destined to become worse if it is not addressed. Is it right for foreign interests to determine the voting outcome in a Barbados election? Barbadians for several years have relied on the good sense of individuals who exercised some control over their power and their excesses. Those days have now long gone. Legislation must be put in place and must be enforced, otherwise our democracy may very well be seeing its last days. This development in the purchase of votes seems to have reached this critical stage. When are Barbadians going to address this matter, when it becomes too late?

Name Withheld

Constituency Councils: for the people?

26 Jan

The constituency Councils Bill was passed by the Parliament of Barbados in 2009 and could change the political landscape forever, either for good or ill. The two main political parties supported Constituency Councils of one type or another. However there are those who believe that these councils will serve politicians first and the people second. Some have expressed the view that there is no need for Constituency Councils at least not for the purposes set out in the legislation. Barbadians were not paying much attention when this legislation was passed and continue to be unconcerned about the impact that this legislation could have on our democracy.

In order to engage in what should be an ongoing dialogue, as the Constituency Councils evolve, it is critical that we start by knowing what the legislation says, so here we go:

Purpose
The purpose of each constituency council is to (a) improve the delivery of services to constituents; and (b) effectively and efficiently assist in the management of resources assigned for the development of each constituency within the framework of good governance.

Function
The functions of each Council are to (a) build databases (b) identify the priority needs of the constituency (c) make recommendations to the Minister on programmes and projects for the benefit of each constituency; (d) refer residents to Government agencies; (e) assist with the delivery of services to Constituents; (f) carry out activities designated by the Department on behalf of the residents of the Constituency; (g) facilitate the flow of information to and from the Minister.

Consultants
Consultants may be engaged to carry out the work of the Council and their pay is to be determined by the Minister of Finance. The legislation states expressly that an audit of the Councils can be carried out.

Conflict of Interest
Members are required to disclose their interest in matters brought before the Council and disclosed in the minutes, for example if the member has an interest in a company or other entity with which the Council purports to make a contract or transaction. The member is barred from any deliberations, discussions or voting.

Members
It is proposed that there are fifteen Council Members that can be chosen from a wide variety of areas. Individuals may also act in their individual capacity.

The role of the elected representative
He attends as an ex officio member. They are to be notified of any regular meetings and may attend any of the Council Meetings. One wonders then whether they will not be notified of special meetings.

The Representative of the Constituency is also allowed to attend the bi-annual meeting to make an address “on any relevant issue”

Payment of Council Members
The legislation provides that they are eligible for remuneration.

Public Participation
There are bi-annual meetings.

There are concerns that Constituency Councils will be used as a tool by politicians to gather information on the most vulnerable for political ends, provide a mechanism for Government funds to purchase support, weaken the community even further by taking the power away from the people to create their own organisations and raise their own funds, undermine the representative of the Constituency if he or she is not a member of the Government of the day; remove the anonymity when interfacing with the Government in providing sensitive social services (people in your district up in your business) allow for duplication and wastage of Government resources.

What do you think?

Even in death corruption alive & well!

27 Dec

Further to our story concerning corruption in Barbados and an outline of the known instances of corruption another one has been drawn to our attention. This is the case of the sale of burial plots in Barbados that are NOT FOR SALE! The story was published in the Nation Newspaper of December 27, 2009. This matter is now in the hands of the police. Apparently the matter was drawn to the attention of the Government department responsible because some graves were sold twice. It would seem that burial plots have been sold for $1,800 to $2,000, but since 1974 the sale of burial plots at Government owned cemetaries had been prohibited.

This is further evidence of how corruption is beginning to affect the ordinary members of the society in the most basic of transactions. It would seem as though this type of activity is becoming widespread. Is there any Barbadian that feels that this should not be brought to an end? Even if the individuals involved in this scam are brought to justice, will the victims actually get their money back? This is highly unlikely.

We commend the Nation Newspaper for their “investigative journalism”, however we wonder where the investigative team has been in the wake of a number of other corrupt activities that have been going on in Barbados for several years. Many of these are an open secret. Why are these not being exposed? Why is no one complaining?

There is a great possibility that the purchasers might have thought they were engaged in a legitimate transaction. However one can not help but wonder whether this particular case of bribery and corruption was brought to light because the “purchasers” did not get what they bargained for. The individuals that pay ridiculously high prices for licences and non-government fees to get applications approved, perhaps get what they bargained for so there is no need to complain.

This is a big problem. We have to stop comparing ourselves with other countries and stop this trend before it becomes an epidemic. All of us can help by saying “no” to these corrupt practices now. Let us get some more reports to the Fraud Department!