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Global corruption

Thursday, April 20 2017

One is tempted to say here we go again. As legitimate and indispensable as the provision of a sea bridge between Trinidad and Tobago is, the efforts over the years now face real possibilities of being mired in that ever-popular word, if not practice, corruption. The recent soundings of the Prime Minister about certain very disturbing documents in acquiring the vessel to fulfil the much-needed sea bridge between Port-of-Spain and the sister isle is indeed troubling to say the very least on the lease. It brings to the fore once again the much-vaunted word - corruption - and the negative consequences that such practice can impact an economy, business and foreign direct investment if left unchecked. As a reminder, political corruption is the use of powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain and can lead the holders of such high offices to steer away from good governance.

One way of exercising political corruption is through State-owned enterprises. Corruption perhaps is mostly collusive, which occurs primarily when the management and/ or the directors join with politicians, government officials or powerful intermediaries to abuse official power for private gains. All over the world, from Brazil to China, to Ukraine, South Africa and Guatemala, public prosecutors are going after corrupt top politicians on an unprecedented scale.

Petr?leo Brasileiro SA of Brazil (Petrobras) has been caught in a storm of corruption charges; along with President Dilma Rouseff, several ministers and the former president Lula da Silva have been indicted. Interestingly, Petrobras had embraced international corporate governance standards such as separation of CEO and chairman, non-executive directors, and board committees, but years of cronyism and kick-back schemes ensured companies received inflated contracts, eventually passing the benefits to some individuals, the political party in power and its associates.

In China, since the beginning of 2014 officials from various companies have been named publicly for investigation, including those from Petrochina, China Southern Airlines and Sinopec. According to an official of the Supreme Peoples` Procuratorate, the fundamental issue is the relationship between political power and proper allocation of resources. Not surprisingly, surveys in other countries also show public procurement as being at the centre of such corruption. Does this not sound familiar to us in Trinidad and Tobago?

Other studies such as those of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicate low standards of disclosures, conflicts of interest and weak internal control environments as facilitating corruption at State-owned enterprises globally.

Additionally, South Korea’s former president Park Geun-hye was arrested and jailed over high-profile corruption allegations. In South Africa, the top court in the country has just called for the reinstatement of 783 corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma with, a leading judge arguing that the decision by prosecutors in 2009 to drop those charges was “irrational and should be reviewed.”

In Ukraine, we are starting to see mounting demands for independent prosecutors to act against the vast networks of corruption that are widely reported in the media but that never lead to any prosecutions. In Guatemala, determined public prosecutors have successfully investigated more than 30 politicians, including a former president who was forced to resign his office and who was then immediately arrested.

The last few election cycles in Trinidad and Tobago have witnessed repeated claims of corruption by politicians and political parties. To date, we are yet to have one politician convicted of a crime. This has serious negative consequences and undermines public confidence and credibility in democracy, the political system and ultimately in the economy. We must not be as the boy who cried wolf but must demand greater accountability and greater integrity. We must stop participating in corrupt practices and ensure an “end of impunity” and corrupt practices. Foreign direct invest will be affected. Sea bridge or not, we cannot afford this consequence at this time in the economy.



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