News Americas, ATLANTA, GA, Tues. Oct. 13, 2015: Dr. John Ashe a former UN Assembly President and Ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda, and Jack Warner a former FIFA Vice President and minister of government in Trinidad and Tobago, are both fingered and charged by US officials for engaging in bribery, money laundering and corruption in high places.
One of the great ironies of these unfolding scandals is that the mass of the iceberg has not yet been revealed. But the tip of the iceberg has brought the Caribbean unrivaled fame of shame and pain. This unwanted attention has deeply exposed our fractured focus.
Already, the Caribbean has been tagged as safe havens for tax evasion. While our leaders at home and in the Diaspora are working overtime to correct this misinformation by rebranding the Caribbean as the ideal place to attract and grow new investments, it could be expected that with unchecked crime statistics and generally weakened economies, the perception that the region’s public morality has gone south are at odds with the prospect for reliable international support, for investing in the Caribbean.
Yes, corruption is rife the world over. But in the Caribbean we have come to baptize, glorify, defend and accept that those who pursue a political career must rob the public purse rather than raise the public good. Self-enrichment motivates.
Under the table dealing, coupled with a wall of silence has produced the politics of business as usual. This infestation has seeped into the private sector as well. In fact, the perception on the street is that most attracted to public office are either organized crooks, or crookedly disorganized.
It is not surprising that the practice of everybody wants a cut transcends party politics. Allegations of corruption and scandals of swindling have become so widespread that most players in the political arena are comfortable with everybody cutting up every body for a piece of the national pie.
Our ethical gerrymandering and moral disfigurement are now before the entire world to see. Perhaps our political culture steeped in feed, greed and pay no heed has finally come home to roost.
If the good of the nation, and the higher good of the region must be given high priority, this flourishing of immorality cannot continue.
Shall these two global scandals scare us into doing the right thing or shall they inspire us to return to our old fashioned morals and childhood values of hard work, delayed gratification, basic decency, personal integrity and public morality that have sustained our fore parents?
We have not used scandals to heal our souls or as teachable moments to enforce practices of good governance, accountability and transparency in public office. Instead, scandals are tapped as effective weapons to embarrass each other, seize headlines, weaken political opponents and deploy crossfire discussions about which political brand is more corrupt and vile.
Yet there are ample examples of persons of integrity in private and public high places, who serve the people and their customers with distinction and honor. These personalities need to become the norm rather than the exception.
In response to Dr. John Ashe’s charges (tax evasion and bribery) former prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Baldwin Spencer admitted that he had received campaign funds from Dr. Ashe, but was unaware of the sources of these funds. With the global community being on red alert to track money laundering and stem the drastic effects it imposes on small economies, with implications for security threats to larger economies, it is almost unconscionable that Spencer would subject himself to practices of deliberate blindness.
Current Prime Minister Gaston Browne recently promised to be tough on crime without meaningful elaboration. I hope Browne’s image does not suffer from failure to stem corruption in government. He may want to enforce and implement better legislation that would put a limit on campaign funds and demand transparency of reporting these funds to protect the image of Antigua and Barbuda.
A combination of unedited trustworthiness in a public official and a sudden announcement of tough-minded approach on crime represent an unwelcome distraction from an endemic disregard for ethical behavior in public office.
It seems clear that these scandals open up a new opportunity for CARICOM leaders to confront the broader need to reward best practices in government while Caribbean Crime Fighting Experts and Caribbean Courts get seriously busy at punishing malfeasance in public office. Caribbean voters must cultivate a high intolerance for political corruption. In sum, all of us must demand higher standard of leadership in every sector of society.
It is not enough to create systems and processes that facilitate good governance as a fact. We must begin to instill basic values of regional pride, personal integrity, consistent public morality and honest prosperity in our children, and demand these attributes in our political and corporate leaders as a way of life in the Caribbean.
Why does public morality matter beyond party blinders and political weaponry?
Because no nation is secured; no region can be purposely and coherently successful, if its morality is severed from its developmental aspirations. Surely there is a symbiotic relationship between economic growth and good governance. The twain is one.
These scandals can awaken a new consciousness in the Caribbean, a radical shift from the endless cycle of the politics of fear and finger-pointing blame. We must demand of ourselves a new culture of ethical conviction that promotes concrete solutions and constantly search for common ground with progressive change in focus.
This is an ideal time to hold our political leaders accountable, and ourselves responsible for the flowering of the common good for generations to come.
Dr. Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr. Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.