Political corruption describes abuse of public office for personal gain, like receiving bribes; using insider information; peddling influence; accepting gifts; cronyism and nepotism and engaging in conflicts of interest. It cheats a nation of resources for its development. "Corruption takes food from the mouth of the poor''. It threatens every citizen.
This disease has been infesting Trinidad and Tobago for the past 50 years. There are no signs of abatement. Corruption is now more rampant than ever. It is tragic and troubling. Whilst ordinary citizens struggle for survival, corrupt public officials wheel, deal and steal hundreds of millions. They are as evil as murderers prowling at night. They prowl day and night, murdering the nation's future. They look so decent: jacketed or perfumed and pretty, smiling at the cameras, feigning care and concern. But they are incarnations of deceit, wolves in sheep's clothing, serpents underneath; totally conscienceless, uncaring of people and poverty; and untroubled by the looming threats to the nation's viability.
This is our sickness, at one level. There is a deeper corruption. We the people allow it. For the past 50 years, the population of Trinidad and Tobago has done nothing meaningful to stop this atrocity against itself. At no time have we formed ourselves into an almighty force against corruption. Beyond some media and intelligentsia, it has always been a partial, partisan voice lacking the purity of deep and total outrage. Had we got together, and with one voice cried a reverberating "halt'' no matter who was in office, the thieves would have froze and removed their grubby hands from the public trough. Our power would have made them tremble for fear of dire consequences. And who didn't hear would have had to feel!
But alas, we have given up our power, cheating ourselves every single day. In this society, politically polarised by race, almost half the population turns a blind eye when it is their party's turn to gorge. Apparently thievery is tolerable when it is one's own doing it. So it is always "we time now'' for some group here.
Those who shout to hoarseness against it, grow silent when their party rules and new thieves do the stealing; and those who dare stand up are excoriated as traitors to the tribe. Such is the corruption of this society by race-based politics.
The people blunt themselves, deny their wisdom, suffocate their potential and endanger their children's future for the mere identification with power; protecting utterly selfish individuals who care nothing about them and who indeed scorn and privately mock the masses whom they ride to power.
The people therefore sacrifice their integrity for nothing and lose the moral authority to guide the children. We can't moan about social decay when we corrode the fabric ourselves, lowering standards in public life.
In any society with standards, no one would be in the Cabinet with deep concerns about their integrity. No Minister would dare say "let the jackasses bray'' to valid questions from the Opposition. But we have accepted such degrading boorishness from both sides over the years. We have allowed arrogance, unaccountability and shadiness to characterise many cabinets and State enterprises. And soon we will be wondering again, what went wrong, "where the money gorn''. It is amazing self-flagellation!
Will that strong, collective voice to make miscreants tremble remain forever unborn in this country? We the people, who together can shake heaven and earth, we render ourselves powerless in our deliberate blindness. Because we have not demanded it, there has never been any sustained pursuit of the corrupt. Because we have not insisted on their strength, our institutions are laughable in their impotence.
We are responsible for the sorry state of the Integrity Commission with high-sounding mandate and no matching resources. And when action was taken by an Attorney General under a Manning administration, and charges laid against several, including cabinet ministers, and the courts made a mockery with ten years delay and still no conclusion, we the people have not made the hills shake with our discontent.
No politician or political appointee to public office has ever been punished for corruption in this country. No wonder the disease did spread beyond government, producing those continuing nightmares of CL Financial and the Hindu Credit Union. These had been growing disasters for more than a decade. But two prime ministers, two finance ministers and two Central Bank governors, each belonging or connected to our two major parties, did nothing to prevent them and protect the savings of tens of thousands, including party supporters.
Many died of grief. But bigwigs of these organisations consorted with politicians of all stripes and enjoyed shameless immunity for their unspeakable crimes.
Today a Commission of Inquiry lumbers along in futility.
So the corrupt know they can rob with impunity. Witness the brazenness of one murky character, almost arrested for embezzling millions during the last UNC administration, but daring to resurface in high office, to "tief more''. Only here could such return. And without a peep, even from opposition supporters. It seems numbness has developed, along with acceptance of endemic corruption in Trinidad and Tobago. The rot is deeper than ever.
This country must look itself in the eye. Stop trusting politicians because they look like you. Be careful of the maggots who feed off the nation's rotting politics of race.
Rare is the individual who carries in his being the genuine promise of deliverance. Take a long look in the mirror and see. It is only we the people who can save ourselves from the depth of our corruption. The power is within.
• Ralph Maraj is a former