Local pollster, Jude Bernard has commented on a report put out by Transparency International that ranked Grenada as being the most corrupt country in the Windward Islands grouping in the area of Public Sector corruption.
The island was rated 8% points ahead of Dominica (38), which was followed by St. Lucia and St. Vincent, which tied on 35% each based on the Corruption Perception Index 2016.
In an exclusive interview with THE NEW TODAY newspaper, Bernard who is called a Public Advocate in some quarters, said that the ranking is based more on legislative loopholes within the country than on the actual practice of corruption.
He noted that because of Grenada’s “weak constitution” there are a lot of legislations within the country, which sometimes, deliberately create the enabling environment for corruption to occur.
“We have a very weak constitution. The Westminster system has many loopholes and politicians, they have exploited those loopholes to practice widespread institutionalised corruption and Grenada is a clear case of that.
“…Probably we were not prepared enough for that sort of power placed (in) our hands via our independence constitutions so we feel we have to exploit it. This is where … and unless the constitution is strengthened to block a lot of those loopholes the situation will not change.
“In Grenada today, in terms of practice, there is widespread institutionalised corruption in our society. It is at the point where people have gotten so accustomed to it being that way, that they just more or less accept it. Sometime we simply refer to it as “just politics”.
According to Bernard, the evidence of corruption is hurting and infringing on the possibilities of development in the country and continues to be one of the major deterrents to unity and development.
The ruling New National Party (NNP) of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Mitchell has often been dogged with charges of corruption in office.
Bernard noted that charges of public corruption “have to do with people of authority using their positions or their power to exploit situations for their personal gain…”.
The outspoken advocate listed ten examples of governance practice that create the enabling environment for corruption within the state since “the process of governance is deliberately designed and manipulated to facilitate corruption.”
He cited the case of the General Secretary of a party being made a Governor General, a sitting GG whose Law firm is representing foreign investors in their dealings with Government and the firm signing the documents on behalf of the client and the State itself.
He also referred to situation in which the General Secretary of political parties chair Statutory Boards, and Statutory Boards in which the Minister is the one who hires the Board of Directors and has the final say even in making every day mundane decisions.
Bernard also alluded to a situation, which existed a few years ago on the island in which the Manager of the largest road Construction Company operating on the island was the tenant of the Minister of Works for over a decade and the Head of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) being the spouse of a Government Minister.
In addition, he said there is a perception of corruption when the Citizens By Investment (CBI) or passport-selling scheme is headed by the spouse of a Government Minister and many of its agents are either spouses or close family members of persons with Parliamentary positions.
Bernard affirmed that with the existence of corruption, the people are the ones who are highly affected, as they are the ones who remain poor.
He went on: “When you have a statutory board for instance that is run by a political person and when you have the procurement of services from the government and these services are being done on a political basis, the following things happen: you don’t get the best people to do the job and because the people who are doing it are handpicked, sometimes you end up paying twice as much for less or inferior work because some of it has to go towards kickbacks.
“…So we are paying for the kickbacks and we still not getting wok properly done but in actual fact it is given to someone based on politics – nothing to do with technical competencies. Sometimes, the work is never really completed but you pay more than you would have paid if a proper, more transparent procurement approach were done.
“When these things happen, the country losses, the tax dollars are wasted, education suffers, health care suffers, infrastructure suffers and everyone loses (apart from the corrupt). Once there is corruption, you never get value for money, you never get the right people to do the job and it always cost more and, in a poor country like Grenada, this in itself spells under-development and lack of progress”.
According to Bernard, if the corruption analysis took into consideration the “actual work on the ground” there is a high possibility that Grenada could have gotten an even lower ranking, as there are many blatant and subtle occurrences of corruption.
“After 43 years of independence, I think we could have done a lot more if we had leaders who were more concerned about the development of the country, rather than manipulating our weak constitution for solidifying the grip on power,” he said.
In Grenada’s 43 years of independence, current Prime Minister Dr. Mitchell has been at the helm for the longest period, serving for 17 of those years in the top position.
The only other Prime Minister to serve one full term in office is Tillman Thomas of the main opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC).