AG vs Corruption, Not AG vs Chamber
“Politics, it seems to me, for years, or all too long, has been concerned with right or left instead of right or wrong.” ~Richard Armour
“Any call for good governance, or governing of any kind, is met with derisive partisan insults encouraged and perpetuated by those who blindly follow.” ~Belize Needs Leaders, Not Politicians
The Chamber of Commerce may or may not make its own response to the Attorney General’s scathing insults reported in several newscasts last week. The AG appeared to be in high dudgeon at the Chamber’s temerity for daring to suggest that the UNCAC process is moving too slowly. But while he took the time out to display his ability to eloquently portray towering rage, he skipped over the real message behind the Chamber’s apparently deeply offensive letter, despite quoting back to them the very sentence that revealed that message.
The Attorney General’s letter was entertaining, but while it quoted and mocked the Chamber’s suggestion that there is “need for more rapid, resolute and effective action from Government for the implementation of UNCAC and anti-corruption legislation in general,” it also failed to list any actions the government has taken over the past ten years to fight corruption. No doubt the Chamber, as well as we voters, would have welcomed the AG utilizing his eloquence to refute the Chamber’s claims by listing just what solid action has been taken by government in drafting and passing ‘anti-corruption legislation in general.’
An eager government, anxious to make its mark as an anti-corruption administration would have gone over and above the UNCAC process, proactively strengthening old legislation and introducing new laws and tighter measures. A leadership interested in the unfettered growth of the economy it governs would have acted decisively and given corruption its priority attention. An administration committed to fighting corruption would have begun the process, including UNCAC accession, a decade ago, on its very first days in government.
Perhaps even a listing of accomplishments in keeping with the now decade-old manifesto commitments on the subject might have been more reassuring, if also less diverting than the AG’s adjectives.
Here’s a sampling of those commitments:
“Implement immediately the Reform Agenda in order to provide for recall mechanisms for elected officials, prosecution under an unjust enrichment law, an empowered Senate controlled by the social partners, and air-tight accountability to the Auditor General, Contractor General and Ombudsman” ~UDP Manifesto, 2008
“Now…anti-corruption and reform is the core of that vision…I feel confident in commending to the nation our restated vision as the right platform for the good governance project that must take place over the next five years.” ~From the Party Leader, Hon. Dean O. Barrow, UDP Manifesto 2008
“To restore and maintain good governance, the UDP will:
• Give people the power to recall elected representatives and to impeach the Prime Minister.
• Pass an Unjust Enrichment Act under which Ministers and elected officials can be prosecuted where they are seen to be enjoying visible wealth which their salaries and declared assets cannot justify.
• Revamp the Freedom of Information Act to provide for full disclosure of, and easy access to government contracts, operations and projects.
• Make it illegal for for government to sign any contract that contains terms requiring that contract to be kept secret.
• Pass a law to regulate campaign financing.
• Pass a law governing all elected officials to prevent conflict of interest, nepotism and cronyism.
• Empower the Senate to initiate and conduct public inquiries into mismanagement or corruption by officials in central government or statutory bodies.” ~[selected points on] pg 3, UDP Manifesto 2008
“Strengthen the Institutions of Government [by establishing] the role of a National Quality Assurance Coordinator with the main goal of implementing a nationwide quality process, including national and municipal government institutions, aimed at streamlining, and where applicable, automating all government processes and reporting.” ~pg 5, UDP Manifesto 2008
“Increase joint accountability of Ministers, Ministerial Appointees, and Public Offices and lessen the influence of party politics in the execution of the work of government.” ~pg 5, UDP Manifesto 2008
Unfortunately, the Attorney General apparently felt that employing the clichéd diversionary tactics of righteous outrage, accusations of partisan interest and attempts to shift responsibility would be sufficient to allow the media and the public to overlook the fact that he did not in fact answer the real concern. So let us be blunt: this is not about the UNCAC so much as it is about the nonexistent fight against corruption. That is the obvious concern behind the Chamber’s comment that “it is the sentiment of social partners in attendance with the BCCI at the recent Peer Review visit by UN representatives that there is a general lack of information and incentive from Government to encourage the prompt implementation of the UNCAC framework; and a clear lack of interest in strengthening and enforcing existing anti-corruption instruments.”
With all due respect to the learned gentleman, the call here is one that goes well beyond the Chamber to a populace that is frankly exhausted with the rampant corruption that requires fees to be paid to salaried public servants to prevent documents being buried at Lands, that requires people unwilling or unable to pay an expediting fee to return over and over from whatever distance just to get the simplest documents they need from Vital Stats, that sees numerous routine services to the public hijacked by corrupt members of the public service interested only in self-enrichment, no matter whom it costs. The public is frustrated at every sordid turn while elected officials turn a blind eye to those activities for reasons inexplicable to anyone who expects elected leaders to be actual leaders.
While the AG may have entertained Belize with his well-crafted insults, the fact is that a government interested in fighting corruption and in giving the economy a chance to come out from under the weight corruption puts on it would have opted not to wait on the UNCAC process, but would in fact have gotten ahead of it. The Attorney General and his Cabinet colleagues know perfectly well, but hope no one else does, that the UNCAC is not the sole answer to corruption. There are numerous measures that can be taken in the interim to relieve our beleaguered, broken populace from the expenses they must incur as victims of relentless corruption.
Instead of wasting time drafting letters of eloquent insults, it is time for the Attorney General to turn his considerable writing talents to drafting legislation with a view to making sure we get that “rapid, resolute and effective action” in the form of vigorous legal instruments enabling a real fight against corruption.