Saturday, January 20, 2018

While we dance and prance...

Be aware that in this Carnival season many news items, relevant and of great consequence to our national life, will slip by.

Tucked away on Page 17 in the Express last Friday, for instance, was the story headlined, “T&T drops lower in 2013 Corruption Perception Index”.

The story was that Trinidad and Tobago, which in 2012 ranked 80th, alongside China and Serbia on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, fell to position 83—placing us alongside Jamaica, Liberia, Zambia, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Peru and Mongolia.

So while the country has been focusing on pan, kaiso, soca and chutney, a recognised international institution has assessed us and bunched us among some not-so-good company. Just check on the profiles of those countries, beginning with Jamaica.

It is no consolation that Transparency International (TI) said two-thirds of the 177 countries assessed scored below 50 (T&T scored 38 out of 100) and expressed alarm at the abuse of power, secret dealings, and bribery that ravage societies around the world.

It called for a world-wide crackdown on money-laundering, a clean-up of political financing, the vigorous pursuit of stolen assets, and the building of more transparent public institutions.

The announcement of the drop came almost at the same time that attorney David West, formerly of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), lamented to the American Chamber that investigations into white collar crime were “non-existent” in T&T.

Since 2010, financial institutions are mandated to report all suspicious transactions to the FIU. Last year, the banks reported to the FIU 1,115 such transactions, totalling $1.12 billion. These involved possible offences such as tax evasion, drug trafficking, forgery, money laundering, and misconduct in public office.

The FIU, Mr West explained, was mandated to pass on such information to the Financial Intelligence Bureau, the Police Service, Inland Revenue, the Customs, and Immigration departments. Yet to date there have been zero prosecutions and zero convictions.

“If the Minister (of National Security) wants to fight crime… the first place to fight crime is white collar crime. That’s where it starts. If you take away the money from the criminals, there will be no crime—no money to buy a gun, to pay lawyers, no money for anything,” Mr West said.

Then there is a report about another global financial integrity study—done by the Ford Foundation and the Financial Transparency Coalition—which ranked T&T 28th among the countries with the largest illicit financial transactions.

It recorded US$2.646 billion in illicit inflows coming to this country between 2002 and 2011, which placed us fourth among island-nations, behind Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines and tops in the Caribbean. Globally we were ranked just above the troubled nations of Kazakhstan and Sudan.

Add to that the Opposition Leader’s claim last week that a bidder for the entertainment mecca planned for Chaguaramas was allegedly asked for a $40 million bribe.

How is all of this being translated? In various ways; one obvious manifestation is the 70-plus murders in 2014, averaging so far one every 17 hours, and, sadly, alongside a low police detection rate. Of the 46 murders recorded last January, the police reported that only five had been solved.

While the world is using various microscopes to scrutinise the malignancy among us, the Government last week set about debating salary increases for parliamentarians and top public officers.

There may be a strong argument for those increases, because they were last reviewed in 2005, but again the subterfuge lies within the Government’s strategy.

The establishment of a Parliamentary House Committee, under the Speaker, to create a separate report was nothing short of disrespectful with regard to the constitutional body, the Salaries Review Commission.

“Look at the recommendations! That House Committee report was tantamount to an employee setting his/her own salary. The Government knew it was a perversion of the Constitution, yet it proceeded, then back-tracked,” one observer commented.

A senior public official saw the House Committee as another part of a deceptive strategy to undermine all our public institutions. “Look what is being done, not so subtly, to the Integrity Commission, the Police Service, the Public Service, State Enterprises, our judicial system etc.

“Every institution is being undermined. Every decision is distorted towards the Government’s benefit—rather the Cabal’s benefit—with no regard for the Constitution, or established regulations,” he claimed.

The best example, he said, was the announcement that the Cabinet had decided afterwards to reject the House Committee report, but, according to him, there is no record of any Cabinet meeting.

“The Cabinet meets every Thursday, but the Prime Minister made the announcement on Wednesday. I tell you! There is no record of a Cabinet meeting.

“Then there is the claim that Cabinet approved awards to Sparrow and Minshall; again there was no Cabinet meeting. Even Cabinet is being undermined,” he said.

A lot appears to be slipping by, and away—not only at Carnival time.

* Keith Subero, a former Express news editor, has since followed a career in communication and