The release of Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in the same week that the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) elections ended in a deadlock meant that national attention was diverted away from T&T’s lack of progress in the rankings.
No matter how much some public officials might try to put a positive spin on the issue, the unavoidable truth is that plenty of work must be done to improve T&T’s standing on the CPI.
A ranking of 86 out of 180 countries, down one place from the 2019 position, is cause for serious concern. Lest we forget, it is a source of shame and regret that the DC-9 Scandal, Gas Station Racket and, more recently, Section 34, all happened here—and those are just a few of the corruption scandals that have been detected.
It means that this country, which has such a long and shameful history of corruption, has not been putting sufficient effort into improving the legislative landscape and anti-corruption systems, particularly in the public sector.
This country remains at a score of 40, well behind many other Caribbean nations and still a long distance away from where we ought to be at this stage in our development.
Some may want to blame T&T’s lack of progress on the COVID-19 pandemic, but the truth is the global public health crisis should have provided the impetus to ramp up anti-corruption efforts.
Among the major findings in the 2020 report is that "persistent corruption is undermining health care systems and contributing to democratic backsliding amid the COVID-19 pandemic."
The Transparency International report further stated: "Countries that perform well on the index invest more in health care, are better able to provide universal health coverage and are less likely to violate democratic norms and institutions or the rule of law."
Beyond the latest CPI ranking, there is the reality that corruption can be particularly corrosive for a country of our size.
A 2016 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) which focused on small island developing states found that it "impedes development and is directly linked to levels of inequality in society, undermining the rule of law, weakening institutions and destroying citizens’ trust in them."
It also found that corruption is "a main obstacle to social and economic development."
So where does T&T stand in terms of the health of its anti-corruption authorities and oversight institutions? Not in a good place.
It is unacceptable, for example, that more than one political administration has presided over numerous stops, starts and unnecessary stalls in efforts to establish a public procurement regime. Even now, the system is not operational.
Apart from still being a few critical steps away from full implementation of public procurement laws, T&T suffers from other deficiencies. For example, the absence of campaign financing laws means that we are still without safeguards from proceeds of corruption, money laundering infesting the election process.
That is why T&T ranks so low on the Corruption Perception Index.