Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Transparency, accountability and ethical conduct in the Commonwealth Caribbean

By Ian Francis:

Within the last few weeks, Grenada was once again consumed with a scandal that touched on admitted campaign funds received in Grenada for the National Democratic Congress (NDC). As the evidence indicates, funds were received and deposited into various personal accounts of known individuals who hold elected and appointed important offices in Grenada. There were many verbal and one written admission, which emanated in a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at info@visminconsultancy.ca
As the prime minister’s press secretary comforted himself in the media room at the Botanical Gardens, Grenada’s airspace was once again circulated by a Qatar Airways Airbus 320 aircraft, which sought clearance to land at the Maurice Bishop International Airport in Point Salines. Permission for landing was quickly granted and the Airbus made it way to the tarmac and took up a well located parking spot.

As the Airbus landed, numerous and unsubstantiated rumours and speculation surrounded the nation. There was no welcoming diplomatic entourage on the ground and the flight did not appear to be a presidential flight. Those of us who have taken the time to become aware of the diverse political habits of Arab leaders will know that they travel in pomp and ceremony, usually on a modified 747 similar to Air Force One of the United States of America. In conversation with regional aviation experts, they all agreed that there is indeed a vast difference between an Arab presidential personal 747 and a 320 Airbus.

As the curiosity and speculation about the Qatar Airbus at MBIA continued, it was necessary to contact the press office of the Embassy of Qatar in Washington to determine whether the emir was on an official visit to Grenada. After checking many other reliable sources, it became evidently clear that the emir was not in the Caribbean region, although there was a sanctioned Qatar delegation in the region. With no official statement from the Thomas administration, it will be unfair to promote any further speculation.

Grenadians have been left in the dark as to whether there is any connection between the Qatar-Saudi Arabia-British Virgin Island monetary contribution to the ruling NDC and the follow up visit to Grenada by Saudi and Qatar officials. What is very clear to Grenadians at home and in the Diaspora, is that money passed, money went into personal accounts and it has now been determined that it is an internal NDC matter that will be addressed by party officials. With such an undertaking, it is hoped that at some appropriate time after the issue has been dealt with, the NDC will accord the necessary respect to Grenadians by sharing with them the outcome of the party’s internal adjudication task on this shameful and embarrassing episode to Thomas and his loyalists.

While the debate persists amongst local and leading legal minds, there seems to be a unanimous position that there was no law broken. As a lay person, I concur with the legal minds. However, there remains the issue of transparency, accountability and good ethical behaviour. Given Thomas’s persistent denial and change of stories, only later to admit that funds from unknown persons had in fact arrived in Grenada and some made its way into his personal account, this behaviour by Thomas and his NDC loyalists raises many troubling questions and concerns. If this unethical and roguish behaviour is evident within the ruling party, what stops it from being practiced and embraced in the government domain as it now seems obvious?

In my view, the current Grenada situation should give added impetus and expediency for regional institutional reforms and genuine capacity building initiatives. In recognizing this urgent need, it would appear that the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) should take the initiative. Why the OECS? Available information indicates the MDCs within CARICOM have already taken some initiatives. For example, it was only a couple of weeks ago that Jamaica’s National Security Minister, Peter Bunting announced the formation of a joint initiative to be known as MOCA to address corrupt practices across the Board.

The OECS, in its ongoing quest for fulfilling its multilateral mandate, needs to go beyond just the raking in of euro dollars and other pittances for environmental and other initiatives. The OECS and its members are highly recognized and appreciated throughout the Commonwealth. It would appear that, given the existing recognition, initiatives and other activities to implement transparency reform and good governance do not at all times have to carry a huge dollar tag. It is also the responsibility of many OECS leaders to recognize and understand that, if they are truly and honestly committed to the building of the transparency and accountability process, working collectively and in a committed manner there is much that can be achieved.

My vision and understanding for building and sustaining a viable and effective transparent model in member states must be taken seriously. There is much needed assistance that can be derived from Canada in health and legal governance, development of policies on sexual harassment and campaign financing.

Australia and the United Kingdom can assist in local government development; judicial planning and public sector human resource development.

Prior to beginning the task of building a strong and viable transparency model, it is incumbent upon OECS governments to settle the long outstanding and shameful resistance of full CCJ membership. Once the CCJ membership is settled, each member state must comply with the old promises and posturing of appointing strong Ethics Commissioners with the necessary legislative powers to be independent and the right it investigate, expose and rule on all forms of unethical behaviour.

A good starting point should be the declaration of assets and their retirement to a blind trust. OECS governments should not vacillate any further but to emerge and join collectively in building a strong transparency and accountable model.

June 18, 2012