LET’S face it, politics in Saint Lucia has a stench about it. It is seen as being plagued by corrupt politicians who launder money, accept kick-backs from investors and divert money from well-meaning, friendly governments, for their own purposes.
Of course, that view is rooted mainly in perception, as there is no hard, actionable evidence that our politicians are not honest, law-abiding citizens. If there are corrupt politicians, none have paid the price. But when the negative perceptions are encouraged, not by the people, but by the politicians themselves, the people cannot be blamed for thinking the politicians know what they’re talking about, and that what they say is FACT.
Consider the following statement made at a political meeting of the United Workers Party (UWP) in February 2000, by Dr. Vaughan Lewis, former Prime Minister and Political Leader of the United Workers Party:
“When your country becomes corrupt, and investors know that you have to hand the dollars before they can sign the contract, there will be no investment except by the mafia and money launderers, and bobolists and so on. We have enough examples in our country…”
In that same speech, Dr. Lewis said some things that threw a veil of calumny over the then and current Prime Minister. Dr. Kenny Anthony took the matter to court and won his case. But the damage to the already disfigured face of politics had already been done.
Since then, even more damage has been done with allegations flying left, right and centre about corrupt politicians. Public servants have not escaped the tongue-lashing. Recently, one politician and former Minister insisted that if there are corrupt Ministers, it’s because there are corrupt public servants, or words to that effect. All of this gives credence to Papa Vader’s calypso that ‘we’re living in a For-a-Cut society.’
But what worries me and what should worry every Saint Lucian politician and citizen is the damage that these allegations are doing to Saint Lucia’s image.
While our politicians delight in making each other out to be corrupt and untrustworthy, other countries do the exact opposite by creating a culture of zero-tolerance of corruption. While successive Governments in Saint Lucia establish Commission after Commission to probe alleged acts of corruption, and while these Commissions produce reports that go nowhere; in other countries the rule of law is invoked and the police and the courts are brought into the picture from the very outset.
The USA and Singapore are prime examples of countries where the Rule of Law is firmly applied on corrupt politicians. In these countries no one is above the law and no one is allowed to believe that he/she or she is above the law.
And this is exactly how it should be.
President Nixon along with more than 70 people, including White House aides and Cabinet officials, were convicted of crimes related to the Watergate break-in and its cover up. Former Governor of Virginia Bob McDonnell and his wife Maureen are the latest examples of powerful politicians in the US who have paid the price for abusing the people’s trust. They were sentenced to prison terms of 2 and 1 years respectively for accepting gifts from a businessman. Last week, Oregon governor John Kitzhaber stepped down because of corrupt acts, not by him, but by his fiancee.
Singapore has an even more aggressive, no-nonsense approach to corruption than the USA. Singaporeans expect their leaders to set the tone and to act responsibly. And overwhelmingly and consistently, they do. From his very first day in office, former PM of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew set about to ensure that every dollar in revenue is properly accounted for and reaches the people, as one full dollar, without any dilution along the way. Successive leaders have continued along this path. Singapore’s Prevention of Corruption Act give agencies like the Corruption Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) wide powers to investigate the bank accounts of suspects and their families, as well as powers of arrest and search. A One-Stop Corruption Reporting Centre enables people to make complaints discretely and responsibly.
Even more impressive is the fact that Singapore markets its consistently high ranking on the global corruption index, as a key selling point in its investment strategy. Investors are impressed by the culture of “Integrity, Service and Excellence” of Singapore’s Public Service.
Corruption is not only about bribery. It can take many forms. It includes selling access which raises the issue of campaign financing and that troubling citizenship by investment proposal. Nobody knows who donates money to our political parties. But everybody knows these donations are not made for the mere fun of it. If we’re serious about curbing corruption, we should have campaign finance laws in place.
Saint Lucia desperately needs to clean up its image as a corrupt country. But little headway will be made in that quest unless its politicians become irrevocably involved. It’s bad enough that money donated by a foreign government does not go into the Consolidated Fund. But it’s even worse when that money is not used for the purpose and in the manner that the donors intended and that the people expected.
It’s unacceptable that we have fangless, lifeless entities like the Integrity Commission. If the Public Service Commission has dismissed or disciplined any public officer for corruption, we have not heard about it. Still, the allegations continue.
As a rule, allegations of corruption should not be made against anyone, if they cannot be proven in a Court of Law. Parliamentary privilege should not be used to unfairly impugn the characters of MPs. We have had enough of that disgusting practice. Those who knowingly peddle lies as the truth for political advantage are just as corrupt as those who steal from the public purse. As the prominent Methodist Minister, socialist and pacifist, Baron Donald Soper once noted “what is morally wrong cannot be politically right.”
We make a big deal that Saint Lucia is the Land of Laureates. But every act of corruption that goes unpunished and every allegation of corruption that is not proven, only increases the perception of Saint Lucia as the Land of the Lawless.
Our politicians and our people have a choice: to teach ourselves and others that politics is not about corruption, calculation, lies, intrigue, under-the-table-deals; but that it is about honesty, fairness, integrity, and improving ourselves and our country.
by The Virginian