Corruption 'So Ingrained It Is National Status Quo'


Tribune Business Editor


Governance reformers yesterday moved to ensure there was "no wiggle room" on the Government's anti-graft pledges by proposing the creation of an Anti-Corruption Task Force (ACT).

A group of civil society and private sector organisations said the ACT would work with the Minnis administration to fight corruption, saying this had "become so ingrained in government operations that is widely recognised as status quo in the Bahamas".

Matt Aubry, executive director of the Organisation for Responsible Governance (ORG), told Tribune Business that the group's initiative was designed to reinforce the Government's election and Budget debate promises.

ORG has teamed with Citizens for a Better Bahamas, Civil Society Bahamas and the Abaco Chamber of Commerce on the ACT initiative, a proposal for which was sent to the Prime Minister and Attorney General within the last few days.

Mr Aubry said that while the Police Force's anti-corruption unit, and talk of more powers for the director of public prosecutions, were positive developments, ORG and the other groups wanted to ensure the Minnis administration followed through with anti-corruption legislation when the House of Assembly resumed in September.

"These are good, key things," he told Tribune Business of developments to-date. "The devil is in the detail. We want to ensure every step is taken, every proviso accounted for, so there's no wiggle room.

"It's [corruption] holding us back economically, and our social and educational development. We need to fight through this, but as part of that fight we hope the Government embraces this, works collaboratively with us, and we have a strong effort going forward."

Explaining the rationale for the proposed ACT, ORG and its partners said: "Accountable and responsible governance is the foundation for a strong democracy and more prosperous future for all.

"Over subsequent administrations, the Bahamas has lapsed into a culture of complacency regarding corruption and cronyism. The level of corruption has become so ingrained in government operations that it is widely recognised - locally and internationally - as status quo in the Bahamas.

"To reverse this trend, civil society, private industry, government and media must collaborate to create dialogue, develop insights and generate positive and sustainable solutions to change."

ORG and its partners added that the ACT would help create the "new environment and culture of public service transparency and accountability" promised by the Minnis administration.

"Although the Bahamas signed an anti-corruption treaty with the Organisation of American States 19 years ago, this has largely failed to address and enforce related laws," their statement added.

The ACT would feature members from the civil service, private sector, civil society and academia, with the goal of educating Bahamians and monitoring progress towards the elimination of corruption within the Government and wider society.

Mr Aubry said the organisation would also decide anti-corruption priorities, and benchmark progress against international standards and best practices.

It would also compile data and make recommendations to the Government; propose new legislation and amendments to existing anti-corruption laws; and set out codes of conduct; and structure and oversee an anti-corruption agency.

Mr Aubry said ORG and its partner organisations did not want to leave the anti-corruption fight solely to government, adding: "We want to make sure this administration doesn't miss the expectation."

He said the ACT would also concentrate on ensuring "a commitment to transparency in the public service is brought forward, and accountability and enforcement happen in the way it should".

Describing progress to-date, Mr Aubry added: "We've had some initial discussions with the Deputy Prime Minister, Marvin Dames, Brent Symonette and Elsworth Johnson, minister of state for legal affairs.

"All have been tentatively positive. Nobody has said no. We did put the proposal to the Prime Minister and Attorney General a couple of days ago, and they said they'd get back to us."


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