Saturday, 10 September 2011 10:30
By Ofer Shaked
Corruption in government can damage the basic principles of justice, government quality, social cohesion, and the quality of life of citizens and residents.
It also affects growth and economic investment in the volume and raises the price of government services. In many ways, corruption deals a mortal blow to the values of democracy and the ability to manage the shared life of political and legal means.
Untreated corruption may erode the systems of government and the foundations of society and make the regime illegitimate.
What is political corruption, and why are public officials abusing their authority to advance personal interests?
Do all corrupt political patterns necessarily harm democracy?
How is corruption measured in government as a whole?
Is Antigua & Barbuda a corrupt country? Is the corruption more significant in our country than in other countries?
Is the struggle to reduce corruption in Antigua managed effectively?
The accepted definition of political corruption is the improper use of public office to advance the private interests of a public servant. Having said that, one of the roots of political corruption is the conflict of interests. What is the conflict of interest?
A conflict of interests occurs when a public official, who is tasked with a duty or project, has private interests that conflict the obligation to serve the public.
Every public servant might find themselves involved in a conflict of interest - which requires their awareness and vigilance in public office. The performance of a task in the best possible way is the concern for the interest of the employer (the public). When a public servant has additional interests in the issue he/she is handling, other than the public well-being, the public servant is in a conflict of interests.
The first danger presented by a conflict of interests is the potential that a public servant will not perform their duty properly, due to influence from their additional interests, and will damage the public's interest. The second danger is the distortion of a public official's discretion, namely the public official will not solely serve their private interest, but their ability to decide what should be done will be warped from its original state prior to the conflict of interest, regardless of the decisions made in office. The third danger is damage to public confidence in government.
The very existence of a conflict of interest affects the overall trustworthiness of a government, and even if a public official works in tune with the public interest, his/her decisions will not be trusted by the public.
Is a conflict of interest a form of corruption? Not always. When an action is taken by a public servant who has a conflict of interest, and that action is in line with the public servant's own private interests, then that public servant is corrupt.
In Antigua & Barbuda, there exists a political, economic, social, and governmental elite, wherein all the persons are closely tied to one another. The significance of this is that every person at the top is the friend or partner of other top persons, who have shared political and economic interests. Due to the concentrated nature of the economy, there are a few wealthy people who know all the decision makers, and apparently enjoy their company in one form or another.
Since many corrupt acts take place in Antigua & Barbuda, and because it is important that public services serve the public, and not the capitalists or other wealthy parties at the public's expense, I believe we must fight for improved public norms and the reduction of situations where public employees are at a conflict of interest.
The struggle has to be managed on several levels, the first of which is the economic level. It is important to reduce the concentration in the economy, for such a reduction would contribute to minimizing conflicts of interest. The second level is the legal level – where the fight against criminal acts of corruption and serious conflicts of interest must take place. We the public must support the police, prosecution, and the courts as they fill their obligations.
This article is an introduction to a series of articles describing this conflict of interest. It is important to note that the government of Antigua & Barbuda has never had control over corrupt acts taking place on the island.
What Antigua & Barbuda needs is an independent body that critically analyses the government's structure and decisions, and while this body will not have control over the government, it will be responsible for providing detailed reports on corruption, conflicts of interest, human rights, and other issues.
In my next article, we will discuss examples of conflicts of interest and the impact they have on the government, the economy, and the public. I invite the readers of this article to share their thoughts and opinions on the significance of the conflict of interest in Antigua & Barbuda.