Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Fight back against culture of corruption

 Bad news generally disturbs. If it continually dominates the headlines, people risk becoming inured to the unpleasant and objectionable. But we must equally avoid the pitfall of burying our heads, ostrich-like, pretending all is well in paradise. That provides open licence to perpetuate the avalanche of wrongdoing which cascades unchecked over the land, overpowering all with its unbearable stench.

Therefore, conversations about ethics, morals and corruption must persist; not in the vein of futile emoting, but with a view to constructive representation of citizens’ righteous indignation, directed at effecting requisite responses in the law (reform and enforcement), the criminal justice system (efficiency and effectiveness) and social-sector development (well researched, evidence-based interventions).

It may not so appear, but I am convinced the silent majority subscribes to the values of good governance, understanding it not only reinforces responsive public policy and high levels of public-sector performance, but also is a crucial deterrent to systemic corruption. Unhappily, while we cringe in mute consternation at the observed excesses of those slurping at the public trough, the latter laugh their merry way to the banks, local and foreign, and real estate agents.

Corruption is corrosive of a society’s ethics and morals. It hinders economic development, undermines stability and erodes trust in public institutions. Worst of all, its deleterious effects—lack or poor quality of essential public infrastructure and services—are a disproportionately high burden on those least able to bear it: the poor and vulnerable.

Must we remain forever silent witnesses to the rape of our country’s finances and assets because corruption is “just a way of life”? Are we mere helpless victims? Or can we emulate citizens in this and other countries who are evolving into activist corruption busters, part of a growing grassroots bottom-up “eruption against corruption”. They are becoming organised and empowered to fight and curb corruption, by building awareness, mobilising allies and resisting and disrupting abuses. Their tactics include using nonviolent actions such as civil disobedience; petitions; vigils; marches; sit-ins; Freedom of Information laws; demanding information; monitoring/auditing of authorities budgets, spending and services; social networking and blogging; street theatre; songs; humour and other cultural activities.

The individual citizen need not be alone in this! Many, if not most of us, are members of clubs, groups or associations of some kind. Let us put this matter on our organisations’ agenda, forge strategic alliances with like-minded civil society organisations (T&T Transparency Institute) to raise public and media awareness about the costs of corruption, and schools to engage young minds about ethical behaviour, corruption and how to fight it. We can also report incidents of corruption, refuse to participate in events and patronise businesses that are not transparent and legal, and adopt and enforce zero-tolerance practices toward corruption in all our personal affairs. 

To do less is to allow unscrupulous public officials to continue putting self above public interest, undermining the integrity of other honest functionaries. Given recent revelations, we must press for an effective “ethics infrastructure” that provides guidance for good conduct and also administratively and legally punishes misconduct.

Winston R Rudder

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