The question remains how do we reduce corruption in Trinidad and Tobago
Concerns are being expressed about the economic problems facing the Caribbean. The problems are many but I am of the view that if the problem of corruption is tackled it will go a long way to improving the economic performance of the region.
Corruption depletes national wealth, increases costs of goods and services, funnels scarce public resources to uneconomic high profile projects, leads to unhealthy competition and inflation and adversely affects the work ethic and market structures. The topic should not be shirked because it is believed to be difficult but we should seek to study the successful lessons of countries that have been able to deal to some extent with this issue.
Strategies to reduce corruption in Trinidad and Tobago
The following are suggestions to address the topic that were revealed at a Procurement Forum held by APEX (Anointed Professionals Exhibiting Excellence) of the Divine Destiny Worship Centre Church in Diego Martin Trinidad and Tobago.
1. Tackle the problem by having a proper Needs Assessment done – this suggestion came from a presentation on the Needs Assessment By Afra Raymond, BSc. FRICS. It is a fact that conducting a needs assessment prior to the start of procurement can result in the procurement being transparent and contestable. One can use the findings of such an analysis to inform the tender documents. A proper needs assessment can also deal with the problem of funding of uneconomic high profile projects
2. Mr Stephon Grey, Specialist in Forensic and Fraud Auditing made the following suggestions:
a. Conduct Effective Procurement Investigations – he outlined at least twenty four (24) common procurement fraud schemes and gave ten basic investigative steps to dealing with the issue -Source (Forum’s handbook)
b. Conduct due diligence background checks. The Trinidad Guardian in a report on the forum stated:
“Addressing the need to conduct due diligence and background checks when considering the awarding of contracts, Grey said this was a process well followed in developed countries, but “we don’t do it in Trinidad.”
He said that this lack of due diligence had resulted in the largest contract awarded in the country over the last two years in a methanol deal, going to a non-existent company trading under the name Trinidad Development Company, and it was only when it was pointed out after the fact that such company was not registered in this country that the fact became known.” http://guardian.co.tt/news/2013-07-07/cash-sent-out-tt
c The Inland Revenue has a key role to play in stamping out corruption. Mr. Grey noted that Al Capone who was a known American gangster was not caught on racketeering offences but on tax issues. See post entitled Lessons from the Al Capone Story. It is to be noted that cases involving corrupt officials can drag on for long periods and often do not yield the expected result. The United States Administration went after Al Capone for many years but only got him on tax offences. We need to review the operations of our tax department and its legislation, amend the legislation, if necessary, and put systems in place in the department to deal with this issue.
d Procurement documents of government projects should be available on line. He pointed out that this can facilitate audit proceedings and that such a practice is done in some countries. Very often in Trinidad and Tobago, the file with the information goes missing or information to build a case of fraud cannot be found in the file.
e Law enforcement officials must have relationships with external bodies that have information to share. He noted that wire transfers go through US banks and so information is available on what is being done. Foreign agencies know and can tell what are the wire transfers going out and who are the political or public officials who have accounts in offshore havens.
3 Other suggestions were to have a public procurement law that tackles corruption. This being necessary for good governance. This has been a long process and much work and discussions have been had on it such as the consultation held in Tobago.
I cannot end a discussion on corruption in Trinidad and Tobago without discussing the need for legislation dealing with major contributors to political parties’ campaign. There is also the need for the political will to do what is necessary and to enforce the laws we quickly make as a response to problems being experienced. The approach to corruption has to be done utilizing many agencies working together.
We need to all work together to reduce corruption in Trinidad and Tobago
The region needs to tackle corruption by a number of strategies one of them being through our tax offices. The issue then becomes, given the assets acquired during the period, what tax has been paid on it. In addition, the time has come when procurement documents of government contracts have to be online so that audits can be initiated using this source. Often in major investigations files disappear or vital information is missing from them. We also need to build investigative competencies in the detection of the acquisition of assets and possibly set up the relevant structure for this activity.
Effective procurement investigations and in particular due diligence background checks are also needed. No one organization can be successful in tackling this matter but it has to be a joint approach involving several key government organizations including the police. Whistle blowing legislation has to be part of the package of strategies as well as improved systems for the protection of witnesses who may come forward with information.