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The very marginal improvement in T&T’s ranking in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) cannot be regarded as progress. This country continues to score below 50, an indicator of the severity of the corruption problem here.

There is nothing to celebrate in moving from a score of 40 out of 100 in 2020 to 41 in 2021. In the Caribbean this country trails behind Barbados (65), the Bahamas (64), St Vincent and the Grenadines (59), Dominica (55), Grenada (53) and Jamaica (44).

When the latest global rankings were released a few days ago, T&T Transparency International (TTTI) chairman Dion Abdool expressed concern that the country seemed to be “plateauing” and called for decisive action to implement legislation that has been talked about for years.

Top of the list should be the long-promised Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Property Act which has been crawling along at a snail’s pace toward full implementation.

Also stuck in legislative limbo are the whistleblower and campaign finance laws which were among the manifesto promises from the People’s National Movement (PNM) in the run-up to its 2015 election victory.

Not enough is done to rid this country of the negative perception developed over decades of political and bureaucratic corruption. There are too many well-documented cases of tens of millions of dollars being siphoned from public projects and instances of nepotism and favouritism in the award of huge contracts.

The consequences go far beyond an unacceptable CPI ranking. Corruption has depleted our national wealth. Even now, in the absence of legislation, there remains the risk of scarce public resources being diverted towards unworthy causes.

Citizens, particularly the most vulnerable, have suffered directly and indirectly from years of collusion, trading in influence and political patronage. The inefficiencies and malfunctions seen in public offices and institutions can be linked to their misuse for the benefit of a select, well-positioned few.

The brighter future T&T deserves will remain out of reach unless there is a clear demonstration of the political will to do what is needed to enforce the long-overdue laws needed in response to this country’s chronic corruption problem.

That includes strong support from the Opposition which, in the interest of the nation, should work for speedy debate, passage and proclamation of the relevant laws.

The work to weed out corruption in the public sector may require many agencies working together but there must be a sustained effort to improve T&T’s standing on the CPI.

In addition to the laws already in the pipeline, clear, innovative strategies based on good analysis of the state of corruption, should be developed and implemented.

Citizens cannot be comfortable with the knowledge that after all this time this country cannot even muster a passing grade on the perception of corruption. T&T’s image needs to be cleaned up and the major effort needed to do that will involve some difficult decisions, biting the bullet at times, to exorcise an evil that too many of us have become too comfortable with.

For a country like ours, a one-notch improvement on the CPI is not much better than the declines which were recorded in the past. A ranking of 41 is just not good enough.