UCCI Caribbean Anti-Corruption Conference

The University College of the Cayman Islands (UCCI) held its 2014 Caribbean Anti-Corruption Conference on 19-21 March 2014 under the theme “Towards a Corruption-Free Caribbean: Ethics, Values, Trust and Morality”. A total of 120 participants from 15 countries in the Caribbean, North America, Europe and Africa attended the conference, including politicians, senior government officials, and representatives of the private sector, civil society organisations, tertiary institutions, churches, and media houses. The conference also drew on the expertise and experience of political scientists, sociologists, psychologists, ethicists, theologians, environmentalists, attorneys-at-law, medical scientists and accountants.

20140325transparencyIn a message to the conference organisers, the President of the Transparency Institute of Guyana and former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran expressed the view that the theme of the conference was highly relevant at a time when these four foundation pillars are under severe test not only in the Caribbean but also in many parts of the world. Alluding to the mixed scores and rankings that the Caribbean countries received on the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index, he further stated that:

As a community of nations with close ties to each other, we can no longer allow ourselves to be perceived in this way if we are to improve the lives of our citizens. When there are high levels of perceived corruption, the poor suffers the most. Indeed, corruption favours the rich at the expense of the poor. We have the ability to lift ourselves from this morass, this low point, but our leaders must demonstrate the willingness and courage to confront and address the issue, and to provide the necessary encouragement and support to civil society organisations such as the local transparency bodies. It is meaningless to argue whether the temperature of a sick child is 108 degrees Fahrenheit or 110 degrees. Instead, recognise that the child is sick and do something about it before it is too late. It is counter-productive to ‘circle the wagons’ and to display hostility to those who speak out every time there is an allegation of corrupt behaviour.

The keynote speaker at the opening ceremony was Dr Huguette Labelle, Chair of Transparency International, headquartered in Berlin, Germany with presence in over 100 countries.  Today, we present a summarised version of Dr Labelle’s speech to the conference.

“Corruption continues to take a great toll on societies and threatens to exacerbate wider challenges that our societies face, be they poverty, inequality of income, the environment, delivering public services to all citizens or maintaining peace and stability. It contributes to poverty and mortality, and strikes particularly hard at the most vulnerable in our societies. Corruption reduces access to essential services and means of making a living.

In July 2013, the Global Corruption Barometer, which covered 114,000 people in 107 countries, exposed the scale of this disease. One person in four around the world pays bribes to access public services. In some countries, it is three in four. In the poorest and least stable countries, the problem is of pandemic proportions. You have got police asking for a bribe, even if you have done nothing wrong. You have health services unavailable to children. You have absent teachers, or worse, teachers asking for bribes to admit students or give out the best grades. If you pay 40% of a family annual income of $600 just to access essential services such health, water or keep children in school, you understand the toll on these families and how corruption kills. For example, in countries where more than 60 per cent claim to have paid bribes, 482 women die per 100,000 births every year, compared to countries where you have less than 30 per cent claiming to pay bribes where this goes down to 57 deaths per 100,000 births. The World Health Organisation also estimates that counterfeit drugs are responsible for 700,000 deaths from malaria and tuberculosis. Counterfeit drugs being market are worth $32 billion.

Our survey also warns that bribery plagues sectors key to setting up a new business, with one person in five paying bribes to register their company, seek a permit and land services, and more than one in ten having to bribe regarding utilities, tax and customs.

Corruption can become endemic and leave people feeling that the institutions supposed to help them are in fact turned against them. In a number of countries the institutions we rely on to stop corruption -– police and judges – are considered the most corrupt institutions after political parties. Thirty-six countries view police as the most corrupt, and in those countries an average of 53 per cent of people had been asked to pay a bribe to the police.

The result of justice systems being weakened by corruption is that people become disempowered, losing their ability to seek justice in courts or hold politicians to account. This makes them further impoverished, but also sows the seeds of conflict by dissolving any ties of loyalty between people and a state seemingly captured by private interests.

The failure of leaders to tackle corruption can become a self-fulfilling spiral when people no longer take commitments seriously. While elections are often won or lost on the corruption issue, those who profit from corruption can be a barrier to reformers who come to power with a promise to clean up. Early engagement often fizzles as pressure increases to stop the cleaning of the administration.

Leaders act on behalf of the people who entrust them to uphold basic ethical standards. In many parts of the world we are seeing massive protests because people feel their leaders are not living up to those standards. People already think global leaders are failing, according to our most recent global survey, and many no longer expect their leaders to act in the public interest. Political parties are seen to be the most corrupt institution in many parts of the world. In fact, our survey found that in 51 countries around the world, out of the 107 surveyed, political parties are seen as the most corrupt of the 12 institutions we asked about.

If you pay a lot of money to a candidate running for election, that candidate owes you something when it comes to deciding the right policies. The question is whether the power of money is greater than the power of ethics? Many citizens think so. According to our survey, 53 per cent of respondents think government is largely or entirely run by large entities acting in their own interests rather than for the benefit of the citizenry.

There is also much evidence to suggest that investors would rather not operate where there is a risk of corruption. In a survey of more than 390 senior business executives, almost 45 per cent said corruption risks led them to not enter a market or pursue a business opportunity (Source: PWC 2008).

Corruption sometimes involves the stealing of assets of countries with the ensuing money laundering and its sophistication. It siphons money away from public spending and diverts valuable public income such as that coming from natural resources. Corruption undermines both the availability and quality of these services. Because this happens in the dark and off books, we may never know just how great the scale of wasted, lost or stolen public money is. One 2009 estimate, limited to how much heads of state have stolen, suggests US$180 billion (Source: CCFD). This is only the tip of the iceberg. One of the major reasons that people in power can continue to get away with corruption is the ease with which they can use the international financial system to hide their ill-gotten gains.

-To be continued –

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