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Finance Minister Colm Imbert

KYRON REGIS

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Finance Minister Colm Imbert yesterday admitted that he has been approached several times and offered bribes as a public official. However, he said he has never accepted one and was once told this was because he was too stupid to do so.

Astonishingly, Imbert said it was mostly members of the private sector who initiated the offers.

“The whole point is it is not as simple as it appears on the surface, it is not just public officials asking for bribes, it is private sector offering bribes and they do so because they think they will succeed,” Imbert said as he addressed an online forum which launched the 2019 Report on Economic Development (RED), which was conducted by the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF).

Imbert said other governments in this country had facilitated bribes being paid during their tenures if office.

“The seven times we (People’s National Movement) got into government, it is the other party was deemed to be corrupt so that quite often we have gone in because we are viewed as less corrupt than the other government,” Imbert said.

“But it has been a tremendous challenge, now it is almost 30 years, to explain to people in the private sector that maybe some of the other political parties might do things in a particular way where you know bribery might be the norm and that is how you get things done, but we don’t do that.”

So what does Imbert do when approached with a bribe?

“When people approach me I say please go away, get lost, don’t come by me with that nonsense at all. In fact, I remember many years ago I was accused of being too stupid to be corrupt. In other words, I did not know how to take a bribe, this is serious you know this is not a joke,” he said.

The Finance Minister recalled an instance in 1999 when the country was heading into an election, where the government of the day was deemed guilty of corruption by the public.

“And the campaign on the other side was: What do you want? Do you want a crook who gets things done? Or a mook, who can’t do anything?” Imbert said.

“Fortunately, T&T has progressed from that era, where it was felt that a government could remain in office, even if it was corrupt as long as it was providing goods and services.”

The best way to ensure transparency, Imbert added, was to provide better information to the public including about procurement, and about the decisions Government has made even about controversial matters.

But he said offers of inducement should never occur as all individuals from the private sector must act with integrity at all times.

He said the private sector must understand that the only way that things should be done is on a level playing field, where everyone has a fair opportunity and everything is done properly in accordance with well-known rules and procedures.

“Because my experience has been, more often than not, is that the private sector is quite happy to offer inducements to public officials to get preferential treatment and to get an inside track and to jump the cue and to get to the top and to have an unfair advantage,” Imbert explained.

The Finance Minister recalled an instance in 1999 when the country was heading into an election during which the government at that time was deemed guilty of corruption by the public.

“And the campaign on the other side was: what do you want? Do you want a crook who gets things done? Or a mook, who can’t do anything?

“Fortunately T&T has progressed from that era, where it was felt that a government could remain in office, even if it was corrupt as long as it was providing goods and services,” Imbert said.

In an immediate response, coordinator of the Confederation of Regional Bussiness Chambers Jai Leladharsingh said corruption is unacceptable no matter who is responsible.

“We do not condone bribery or corruption of any kind whatsoever and I want to say that on record,” Leladharsingh said.

Leladharsingh said the information in the report was “disconcerting and disturbing.” He said that is the public service was efficient and modernised then there would be absolutely no reason for anyone to pay a bribe to get things done.

“The blame must not only be passed to the private sector but it is rooted in the deep inefficiencies and bureaucracies or unethical behaviour on both sides of the public and private sector,” Leladharsingh said.

The Report on Economic Development (RED) 2019 painted a startling picture of bribery taking place in this country. It revealed that T&T ranks higher than average in the region as it pertains to incidences of bribery.

In the executive summary of the report, which was titled “Integrity in Public Policy: Keys to prevent corruption,” it was noted that almost 20 per cent of firms surveyed in T&T stated that bribes are being paid in exchange for critical services.

The report was officially launched in an online forum yesterday.