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posted 2 Jun 2019, 06:41 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 2 Jun 2019, 06:44 ]
Image result for corruption in trinidadFaced with rampant and stifling corruption and incompetence in T&T, one often hears the refrain “only here”. Many people sincerely believe that we hold some premier position in the world of corruption. A reading of several studies in other countries should quickly result in an understanding that it is a global problem, and that common threads run through the results of most studies.

Before delving into what this means for us I will quote from two such studies. There are dozens more that I could have used to illustrate the points that follow. These two appear to suggest diametrically opposed views of cause and effect.

1. A 1966 memorandum by a study group in the U.S. mission in Saigon made this point:

"There is a deadly correlation between corruption at high levels in an administrative system and the spread throughout the system of incompetence, as higher-ups encourage and promote corrupt subordinates, and protect them from the consequences of poor performance of duty or direct disobedience of orders. Such a system demoralizes and 'selects out' the able and the dedicated who do not play the game."

2. Conversely, a study in India, the world’s largest democracy, concluded that “Incompetence is the progenitor of corruption”. To quote directly:

“Policy paralysis, of which much was talked about a while back, was more often a result not of some competent people mortified into inaction, but incompetent people taking wrong and partisan decisions to curry favour. So, while it is often true that both feed off each other, incompetence is the progenitor of corruption.” The full article can be found here – https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/blogs/et-commentary/incompetence-is-the-progenitor-of-corruption/.

In simple terms, the first study concludes that corrupt leaders deliberately staff their organisations with incompetent persons so as to enable corruption. The second suggests that incompetent persons, elevated via political patronage are the real cause of corruption and poor service delivery.

This is a debate that we have been having here for some time. I don’t think we will ever agree that one or the other fully explains the level of corruption in T&T or elsewhere for that matter. I personally lean heavily in favour of the view that corruption at high levels in an administrative system is the cancer that quickly spreads throughout the system with devastating effects as described above.

Why is this important, and what should we do about it? Too many leaders would have you believe that such matters should be left to

The roll of dishonour of those convicted of “white collar” crimes is replete with names of some of those who frequently made the society pages of the newspapers...Charles Warner, attorney general for the thirty formative years of the post-emancipation society...was forced to resign as a result of his inability to deliver and account for inheritances entrusted to his care as the trustee and guardian of a minor...the names of other legal luminaries was added to the list – magistrates, justices of the peace, clerks of court, other lawyers. The list included the ex-chief of police, L. M. Fraser, who embezzled court funds while acting as a magistrate, and C. W. Baker, the inspector-commandant of police, who misused funds from the police canteen...

Many never came to trial – those who held senior positions either were transferred or promoted to other positions outside the colony, or they simply absconded, very often with the connivance of the authorities and the assistance of their friends in high places. Many who came to trial were never convicted.

(Excerpt from the book CRIME IN TRINIDAD CONFLICT AND CONTROL IN A PLANTATION SOCIETY, 1838-1900 by David Vincent Trotman)

the professionals and the very leaders whose corruption we are speaking about. It is in their interest to sell you the idea that these matters are beyond your comprehension. Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of my cherished takeaways from several recent events is that the public are more than capable of understanding these matters. They’re affected daily, and many quickly recognise where the cancer originated – at the top. What would most alarm the corrupt individuals, however, is if the electorate, both at election time and on a daily basis came to believe that they could effect a change.

The single greatest weapon in the armoury of corrupt leaders is the ability to persuade those on the receiving end that they are powerless. Recent events have convinced me that their Teflon coating is wearing thin. Citizens, inspired by a few resolute souls are demanding openness and accountability like never before. That gives me great hope.

I will not try to diminish the scale of the problem. Many of the studies on the matter tell of rampant corruption in establishments dating back more than fifty years which is reported to be as bad today as it was then. The task of eliminating corruption and improving service delivery is an awesome one which requires active participation of the general public who are the biggest losers in the game.

The problem can and should be attacked from both ends. We should not exclude either corrupt leadership or incompetent operatives as a prime target. Dealing with either has a knock-on effect to the benefit of the other.

The actions that could deal with the problem are multi faceted and we will discuss them in the weeks and months ahead. I believe that we must all sign up to do what we can, and not let our corrupt leaders persuade us that we cannot make a difference. The much abused “what we go do?” needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history.

I’m aware of strong individuals who have stood up to corrupt officials, and won. I’m also aware of the lengths that officials often go to in order to demoralise and defeat those who challenge their “right” to engage in corrupt or incompetent practices. What I have seen, though, is that each of the brave souls who has challenged corrupt practice in recent times is “on his/her own”.

That must change for two critical reasons. Firstly, the public must be made aware that there are success stories in the fight against corruption. That gives inspiration. The second is that we can learn from each other and support each other in our struggle against corruption. Towards that end, I will relate (anonymously where necessary) some of the travails and success of those who have taken the fight to corrupt officials. Most are humble citizens of modest means who we should all celebrate.

I close today with an acceptance that our political system facilitates corrupt practices at every level. Success will be slow and patchy unless we simultaneously address the manifest failing in the way we govern ourselves. Despite the huge, some might say insurmountable, barriers to implementing change to our political infrastructure, I believe that there indeed are things that are within our control as a population and I will delve into those in due course.