I was invited to submit this article to compare developments between T&T and Jamaica in relation to the critical accountability, governance and anti-corruption work being undertaken by my colleagues at the Jamaica Accountability Meter Portal – JAMP. Instead, I am provocatively posing the question as to why both our countries appear unable to prosecute or convict, far less imprison, any important or prominent person. It seems that we are unwilling to set and hold a high standard for conduct within our ruling class.
The anti-corruption discourse in our country usually rationalises the failure or refusal to prosecute any important persons for corrupt acts as being a result of our small size. After all, everyone has a friend who will ‘see for them’ – as we say in Trini, ‘A for Apple, B for Bat and these thieving people does C for ‘theyself!’. Those friends will warn them, lie for them, forget for them or even lose a file or two for them. We have all had these frustrating discussions and wondered if we can ever muster the will or the wits to lock-up the important people who regularly commit acts of grand corruption.
An important aspect we seldom discuss is the toxic role of political party loyalty, in which national concerns are routinely replaced by electoral jockeying.
When one considers the global news on this anti-corruption struggle, it is clear that in some substantial way the tide has turned. In a variety of countries, the citizens have become so outraged at the damage that large-scale corruption has done to their societies that the authorities there have now started to take decisive action against this scourge. It all makes me wonder when is the Caribbean going to catch-up with the rest of the world in punishing these destructive acts?
I have to say that it is very disheartening to consider that some 60 years or so after achieving independence, so many of our countries appear to be in the actual control of these large-scale criminals. I am from the Independence Generation and it appears that we, together with some of those who went before, have squandered the chance to create new arrangements to repair the great damage inflicted on our people during the colonial period. We really and truly have lost our way, I am sorry to say. It is so serious that we actually have educated people saying openly that it would be better if we had remained as UK colony, or maybe we should just invite some fresh country to re-colonise us. That is how bad the despair has gotten.
I do not believe that we are inherently bad or that better cannot be done. No Afro-Pessimism for me, so these examples from three Formerly Colonised Countries are part of the narrative we need to become more familiar with. These examples are proposed as part of a bench-marking process in which we could learn from the best results achievable by other countries with similar histories.
Our tiny neighbour, Grenada, with a population of about 110,000, has set a high standard in this case.
On 20th December 2016, the High Court in Grenada sentenced Capital Bank International’s CEO and Chairman, Finton De Bourg, to 23 years in prison for 6 counts of fraud. The reports indicate that the offences were committed between 2002 and 2008. The 66-year-old De Bourg was also ordered to repay $166M EC[i] within 5 years of his release, failing which he would face a further 3 years’ imprisonment. Mr de Bourg appealed his conviction in 2017, but that was dismissed by the Appeal Court of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. A further appeal was carded for April 2020, but I could find no news on its result, possibly the impact of COVID-19. In 2019 he also attempted to secure bail and/or early release pending that appeal (on some sort of medical grounds about cataracts and so forth) but that was rejected and Mr de Bourg remains behind bars.
One can scarcely imagine any such arrest, prosecution or conviction, far less imprisonment, taking place in our countries. After all, we are too small.
So now we move to an example of how public sector corruption and embezzlement was punished in St Lucia, which has a population of about 183,000.
On 1st July 2021, the media reported that former Financial Controller of the St Lucia Tourist Board, Donovan Lorde, was sentenced to three years and nine months imprisonment after pleading guilty to money laundering of $260,000 EC[ii] stolen from his employers in 2011. Apart from the dedication in pursuing this matter for a decade, the reports noted that he was extradited from Trinidad & Tobago and that the stolen monies were deposited in banks in T&T.
To my mind, the most interesting element of this episode is that the St Lucian authorities were able to ‘perfect’ the case against Lorde to the degree that he pleaded guilty, no doubt in return for some consideration in sentencing. We need to learn the approaches taken by the exemplary St Lucian authorities to achieve that solid result. Only then can we expect to see such accomplishment start in our own systems.
Finally, we return to the Motherland, as we all must, with a COVID-19 display of how South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa, dealt with another type of corruption or lack of accountability which endangers the community. Of course, the South African population is about 60 million, so some may find this example to be a stretch, but bear with me.
The issue here was the failure of a Cabinet Member in April 2020 to observe the COVID-19 rules on congregation and masking etc.
President Ramaphosa “…sanctioned Minister of Communications and Digital Technologies, Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams, after she violated COVID-19 lockdown regulations.”
Ndabeni-Abrahams was suspended for two months and will get only one month salary, the Presidency said in a statement on Wednesday.
“As to the allegations that the minister violated the lockdown regulations, the law should take its course,” said Khusela Diko, the presidential spokesperson.
The punishment followed the revelation on social media that the minister visited the home of a friend who hosted a lunch…
“The president has reprimanded the minister and directed her to deliver a public apology to the nation…”
The South African President had the moral fibre to insist on exemplary behaviour from his Cabinet, we need to learn from that example. Can we imagine that type of principle applied to George Wright MP or in the Rick’s Cafe episode?
During my 2016-2019 campaign for information and analysis of the proposal for Tobago Sandals, I made these painful observations –
We are witness to a situation in which the brightest people, who went to the best schools and passed every test, with flying colours too, are unable or unwilling to pick sense from nonsense.
Blind Loyalty has eclipsed all the gains our countries should have had from the education our foreparents sacrificed and protested to secure for us.
The only conclusion I can see is that size does not really matter, what is important is the motivation to do the right thing, That type of motivation is sadly lacking here, with our police failing to pursue solid reports submitted with all the evidence.
We have to do better.
Afra Raymond is a Chartered Surveyor, Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Limited and past-President of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC) – this discussion is hosted at afraraymond.net.