It was heartening to hear from Police Commissioner Gary Griffith that significant progress has been made in investigations into alleged corruption at the Estate Management and Business Development Company (EMBD). This confirms a Sunday Guardian investigative report about the work done by the Anti Corruption Investigation Bureau (ACIB) with assistance from UK investigative firm Edmonds Marshall McMahon to crack a case that robbed taxpayers of $549 million.
This type of police work, independent of political influence, is needed to ensure that in this and other suspected cases, pillaging of the Treasury is exposed and the individuals involved brought to justice.
Commissioner Griffith’s assurance that work continues in other high-profile cases, including AV Drilling and Lifesport, offers the nation hope that these matters will be pursued to their final resolution, ending the secrecy and lies that often shroud these matters.
The T&T Police Service (TTPS) must not be hindered as it deals with the cases of corruption now in the public domain. However other agencies and oversight bodies must also be empowered to excise the corruption infesting many parts of the private and public sectors.
T&T’s political and economic systems have for too long been hindered by corruption. Politicians never miss an opportunity to hurl accusations at their rivals but have never addressed the problem in a way that provides concrete solutions. That is why its corrosive effect will continue to be felt well beyond the current election cycle unless firm action is taken.
Corruption has become so deeply embedded in this nation that it is now virtually impossible to give the exact figures on its economic costs. However, much can be gleaned from the fact that on Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index T&T ranks 85 out of 180 countries.
On a global scale, a 2016 report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated the cost of bribery alone to be between US$1.5 to US$2 trillion per year. According to the World Bank, the average income in countries with a high level of corruption is about a third of that of countries with a low level of corruption.
At the local level, corruption has tainted the quality of political representation and economic efficiency remains elusive because of the amount of self-dealing and secret exchanges that have taken place, sometimes undetected and often ignored.
There are still too many opportunities for corrupt individuals to siphon off and divert the country’s revenue for their enrichment. Loopholes exist because of an incomplete legal and operational framework comprising under-resourced institutions with limited powers of oversight and enforcement.
Consider, for example, that substantive provisions of The Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act are yet to be operationalised so that the necessary level of scrutiny of contracts and acquisition of goods and services is still not possible. That is just one of many such instances.
T&T needs a fully functioning Integrity Commission, Office of Public Procurement and Office of the Auditor General, operating independently and transparently as a solid front against corruption and holding public officials to account for their handling of the nation’s resources.