By Raffique Shah
October 13, 2013
Over the past 40 years, since the first oil boom began in 1973, allegations of corruption against government ministers, other politicians and senior public officials must have exceeded the one-thousand mark. I refer to alleged acts of corruption involving tens of millions of dollars and more, not to petty sums below, say, five million.
Since each corrupt transaction of this magnitude necessarily involves several persons—politicians, contractors, corporations, bankers, public officers—we could easily say that at least 5,000 persons of high standing in the society were involved.
And if we accept that corruption did not begin with the flow of oil dollars, that it occurred from as far back as when Albert Gomes and politicians of that era had some access to the public purse, that stealing became an art in the sticky hands of John O’Halloran, Boysie Prevatt and men of their ilk, then we can assume that another 2,000 or so high officials ought to have faced the courts of the country.
To date, however, only a handful of “big boys” have faced corruption charges, and not one has been found guilty and jailed for stealing from the public purse.
What this tells us is that we journalists and other media practitioners who have been largely responsible for exposing alleged acts of corruption have been wrong. We have been “seeing things” where they did not exist, chasing apparitions, wrongfully and recklessly accusing honest politicians and public officials of dishonesty, of stealing, when all along they have been men and women of unimpeachable rectitude. Well, it’s either that—in which case generations of journalists owe these people and the public thousands of apologies—or there is in place a code of protection that straddles investigators and dispensers of justice, that ensures that elite white collar criminals get away with murder, almost literally.
In fact, there is an uncanny connection between corruption, perceived or real, and murder. The investigations patterns are similar. The police or Integrity Commission or other agencies are always “hot on the trail” of perpetrators. When, after months, we hear nothing further, someone says the case is not “cold”. Then an individual is gunned down and we are told that he was a suspect in five, ten murders. Cases closed.
Arrests rates are close to zero. Of the 400 or so murders committed a year, how many arrests are made? And of those, how many reach the trial stage? Of this miniscule number, how many convictions are secured? So whether or not we implement the death penalty, which remains law, it makes no difference. Murderers know they will hardly be caught, far less hanged.
The same holds true for corrupt officials. The only cases of note that have been prosecuted over the past 20 years are those involving persons accused of corrupt acts in the Piarco Airport scandal. And you and I know that these men will sooner die of natural causes than face the finality of their trials in courtrooms. Indeed, one might ask why should they pay a price for anything while hundreds like them are seen at social events rubbing shoulders with the very people who accused them of corruption?
If I may use the reverse scenario, the Patrick Manning administration faced numerous allegations of corruption. From the temple of the Prophetess to the water taxis that never sailed, from billion-dollar projects that ran wildly beyond estimates to siphoning funds off state enterprises, the Manning regime was alleged to have broken corruption records.
Yet, three years after the electorate voted the PNM out of office based largely on perceptions of corruption and wastage, not one of Manning’s merry men (or women) has been charged with anything! The few court actions pursued by crusading Attorney General Anand Ramlogan are by civil, not criminal, actions. They target a handful of former directors and senior managers of state enterprises. And, by the law of averages, not only will they take decades to come to closure, if ever, but they are likely to fizz out like the proverbial you-know-what. So, can we conclude that the Manning regime was not corrupt, that all such allegations were spurious, malicious?
Similarly, the current People’s Partnership Government has faced innumerable allegations of unethical conduct and downright banditry. Hundreds of millions of dollars are said to have been pocketed by ministers, their families and friends, and party financiers. Could it be that all these allegations, all the investigative reports that appear in the print media with documentation to support them, are hoaxes? Is it that journalists and media houses have hidden agendas, ulterior motives?
Or could it be that this is a society in which the public code of conduct is premised on institutionalised deception that allows the high and mighty to get away with corruption, even murder, while the poor and powerless suffer the consequences of revenue stolen?
I don’t know. I am confused. You tell me.