One of the most foreseen risks in politics is that politicians will break their solemn promises to the electorate on matters pertaining to corruption. One of the most common perceptions of politicians is that they will eventually receive bribes.
To address this risk and perception, Solutions Barbados designed, perhaps the most effective anti-corruption policy, and all Solutions Barbados candidates agreed to pay a penalty of $500,000 if they voted against it. This amount was chosen because contractors have admitted paying this bribe amount to politicians before they were convicted.
There are many contractors and consultants who have been convicted for bribery on construction projects. A perusal of development bank Internet sites reveals a growing list of convicted consultants and contractors who are currently banned from tendering. At trial, the charged persons typically gave the same defence, namely, that paying bribes is a normal cost of doing business in developing countries.
Worldwide, it is estimated that between ten per cent and 30 per cent of a construction project is a bribe. From my approximately 30-years of experience in the construction industry, there appears to be sufficient oversight on Caribbean Development Bank and Inter-American Development Bank funded projects to limit corruption. However, construction projects that are not tendered may attract corrupt activities.
Assuming the lowest ten per cent bribe on the value of untendered construction projects in developing countries, this reveals a staggering, and unsustainable amount of bribe money, that the citizens are forced to repay. They are normally repaid through increased taxes.
I received some advice three years ago when I formed Solutions Barbados. I was informed that established parties in developing countries had one prime directive. It was not to look after the welfare of citizens. But rather, to protect all current and past politicians, from both established parties, from meaningful scrutiny. To ensure that no one would later develop a conscience, it was mandatory that everyone had to get their hands dirty.
At each election cycle, each of the established political parties normally read a litany of accusations of corruption on untendered projects. Every year, the Auditor General provides a report that provides sufficient evidence for an investigator to easily follow-the-money. Yet, despite the accusations and the annual reports, no charges are ever made.
When the Barbados Labour Party (BLP) provided their draft Integrity Bill on their website with stated fines of $500,000, I was surprised. When the BLP politicians spoke about the fines publicly, and promised in their manifesto, on their sacred honour, that they would punish corruption, hold ministers accountable and implement “stiff penalties” if elected, I was impressed. I determined that while hope for Barbadians was certain with a Solutions Barbados administration, it may just be possible with a BLP administration.
The Integrity in Public Life Bill has had its first reading in the House of Assembly. The corruption fine has been reduced from the promised “stiff” $500,000, to an affordable (on a minister’s salary) $10,000. So if a person accepts a $500,000 bribe, he can pay a paltry $ten,000 fine and get to keep $490,000. I do not think Barbadians voted for that level of accountability. It should be noted that there are a set of loopholes in the Bill to almost guarantee that that a conviction for bribery is impossible.
Had they signed a similar accountability contract to that of Solutions Barbados, then the total fine amount that would have been distributed to responsible registered charities across Barbados next month, would have been $15 million. Given that those honourable persons in Parliament have accepted their national responsibility to set good examples for our children to follow, I fully expect the bill to be suitably amended during the second reading by those who truly care.
Grenville Phillips II is a Chartered Structural Engineer and the founder of Solutions Barbados. He can be reached at [email protected]