The Scarlet Pimpernel Blog
Friday, 20 August 2010 06:55
By The Scarlet Pimpernel
The Strange Fruits of our Democratic Constitutional Monarchy- The essence of our sovereignty and the meaning of our national independence was diminished ab inicio, by capitulation to an imitation of the colonial master’s Westminster style government (constitutional monarchy), with its anachronistic intrinsic mechanisms, tweaked over centuries to tolerate only incremental change and delimit revolutionary progress.
Further, the creative genius that inspired the movement that gave birth to and fuelled our struggle for independence was short circuited by adoption of a Constitutional Order (1981) that enshrined allegiance to colonial norms, values and traditions, which never served the best interest of the People. With a generation of hindsight as to the peculiar progeny of “constitutional monarchy” in the context of a polarized partisan political playground, the mission to inspire new leaders and the challenge of the radical reformations required to remove colonial mindset, requisite to embarking upon the transformative process of creating a genuine participatory, accountable, transparent, corruption-free democracy, confront us now more than ever.
Our young democracy has witness elections that were “free and fair” and demonstrated its capacity to engineer others that were “far from fair”. Government “by the People” has spawned several salacious scandals and facilitated good men and women with seeming best of intentions to succumb to nepotism, cronyism, favouritism and a host of other misbehaviours. Government “of the People” has catapulted the undeserving into positions of power with debilitating consequences, created instant millionaires and engendered political misconduct, abuse of the public trust, uncanny excesses and wanton corruption, which have left ineffaceable stains on our nation’s international reputation. Indeed, the nation has witnessed the sundry ways in which power corrupts our elected and appointed officials and their cohorts in the private sector, and in our minds we condemn their contemptible conduct, feeling guilty for supporting them with our silence, apathy and lassitude, and powerless to do what our moral instincts know to be the right thing.
With elections on the horizon, HOW can “we the People” demand, ensure and guarantee that impending elections deliver a government forced to abandon corruption and truly functions “for the People”?
A Gram of Prevention is Better than an Ocean of Cure
The brutal economic drain ensuing from government corruption continues to cause widespread hardship, suffering, poverty, crime and starvation, and must be blocked preemptively as a condition precedent to our economic recovery and advancement. The critical “changes” necessary to aptly tackle this issue implicates an arduous process that begins with the creation of mechanisms which focus on preventing the many opportunities for transgression in public office instead of attend to the problem with the customary parliamentary charade of legislating punishment for political misbehavers with toothless laws, loaded with loopholes, cleverly assembled to deceive ordinary people into thinking that representatives on both sides, who all bestow their blessings, are being tough on wrongdoing in public office. In an environment rife with corrupt practices and public political pronouncements of lockup and prosecution, the conviction rate near zero for corruption infractions speaks volumes to the success of the con.
Without surrendering to despondency or evoking remembrances of broken promises of effecting sunshine principles, shattered expectations of governance with integrity and abysmal failure to keep hands out of the proverbial cookie jar, we should know it is not unusual that, “[w]hen people who are seeking change start out, they are driven by commitment to a cause. But as internecine power struggles take over, one-time idealists fall prey to corruption” (Anurag Kashyap). Neither can we discount the constitutionally protected operational structures intrinsic to our form of government, which quite frankly militate against the best interest of the People and commonly facilitate corruption. Concomitantly, it is important to observe the grave difficulties to be expected in any attempt to change the deeply entrenched socio-political, mental conditioning of an electorate with inadequate alternatives and cultured myopic proclivities which politicians masterfully manipulate to the point of disenfranchisement, meanwhile the People’s confidence in democratic ideals become severely eroded and replaced with justifiable skepticism, cynicism and uncertainty.
Consider the perspective that we the People elect politicians to represent our political interests analogous to how we hire lawyers to represent us in legal matters. In the lawyer-client relationship, the client is the boss and has the right to hire and fire the lawyer at any time, for any reason or for no reason; similarly, the real political power in a democracy lies in the hands of the People, and in theory, politicians are obliged to execute the will of the People or be defeated at the polls. Beyond the theory lies the core problem, for unlike the lawyer who you can rid yourself of the instant you are dissatisfied, you are stuck with useless, ineffective, corrupt political representatives for a full term absent radical circumstances. When dishonest politicians surrender to their nature or corruptible ones show that their true color is “green” we have no immediate recourse, and are thus consigned to sit on our hands for years and suffer through another viperous sucking of livelihoods from the public coffers. The injury is aggravated when we have to endure the common misfortune of electing political misdeeds to a second term of office and have to reward corruption with a pension for life. Any sense of conscience, political affiliation notwithstanding, knows “there must be a better way!”
If you were the owner of a business on the brink of bankruptcy on account of being plundered by its employees you would immediately address the issue as a top priority. You would concentrate your efforts into doing whatever possible to remedy the situation, including the employment of all kinds of “watchmen”, auditing systems and advanced video security, surveillance and monitoring technology. Moreover, you would be dancing with delight if you somehow realized exactly how the embezzlement scheme was being perpetrated, because that would mean you could promptly plug the problem. Well, government is everybody’s business, we the People are proprietors of the business of government, and many of our elected employees (representatives) have lived down to our lowest expectations and been nothing short of sycophantic sociopaths with shameless personal agendas. We have it flaunted in our faces, we know exactly how it functions and we find ample confirmation of corruption in the newly dawned “living large” lifestyles of our elected employees, but our colonial mindset impels us to be deferential when we should be uncompromisingly indignant and righteously rebellious.Beyond Checks & Balances
To effectively address the problem of government corruption, we must find a way to do away with “the ayes have it,” zero-sum, winners take all politics of the past, which makes might right, nullifies even useful opposition ideas, substitutes consensus for conscience and annuls independent thinking. To elucidate the point I refer to a snippet from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Francis Hopkinson in 1789 where he stated, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else, where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent. If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” But even the most sincere statesmen will not willingly act against their self interest; therefore the People are obligated to use their votes to ensure the creation of effective measures to meaningfully safeguard the public purse from plunder.
Let us not pretend we do not know that Antiguans and Barbudans in general and our politicians in particular live by the homegrown, black market rule “ah weh cyackle tie dem feed” (cows feed where they are pastured). Thus, we the People have good reason not to trust politicians, but mistakenly believing we have no power to change the system, we have relegated the power of our votes to a meaningless exercise of selecting the perceived better of two evils. If we continue to do what we have been doing we are always going to have the disappointing results we have right now. In addition, our mental conditioning causes us to believe that our elected employees are going to shirk human nature, act against their self-interest and actually create effective measures to eliminate the mechanisms, policies, laws, procedures and environment that make corrupt government practices possible. Think again. Thirty years of independence has fostered a frantic feeding frenzy; we need only look at the people that maintain close contact with our elected employees to find the long line of “opportunists in training” that are patiently waiting their turn to feed at the public trough. Common sense should tell us that it is not that difficult, particularly for learned representatives, to implement simple policies aimed at forestalling and/or eradicating the many opportunities that exist for government corruption, and to exemplify the point, the following are a few suggestions off the cuff for employing transparency measures to combat government corruption.Corruption in Government Spending & Awarding Contracts
• To begin to address the issue of corruption in awarding government contracts, particularly at the Public Works Department, the government must:
• remove the current monetary threshold requirement for tender, eliminate restrictions on bidders and subject all government spending to public bidding in which all private and corporate entities which meet published criteria can participate;
• publish the essential contents of all bids submitted including qualifications, experience, bid amount, name of company and its principals; along with
• a clear explanation of the rationale for particular selection(s) on the government’s website.
• Likewise, publishing the names of individuals, companies and their principals to which or whom the government has agreed to makes payments for real or personal property, equipment, services etc. will reduce corruption in government spending with respect to lease, rent and service agreements.Corruption in Government Per Diems
• To reduce the corrupt practice of using government per diems to bolster the salaries of elected and appointed government employees it is recommended that the government:
• immediately institute a moratorium on all, but vitally essential government travel;
• publish the specific details of all persons receiving government per diems in these circumstances, on the government’s website including, name(s), dates, purpose of travel, amount of per diem and allowances etc.Mixed Bag of Government Corruption
• By simply publishing the qualifications, experience and names of all persons, companies and their principals applying to the government for any benefit, for any reason, and explaining the rationale for every selection, grant or award of government benefits on the government’s website will begin to address the issue of corruption in several areas including:
• corruption in the rent, lease sale and encumbrance of government lands;
• corruption nepotism, and cronyism in government hiring;
• corruption in granting government incentives & concessions (duty free);
• corruption in granting government permits, authorizations & licenses; and
• corruption in the purchasing and assignment of government vehicles;
I could go on, but this list is not meant to be exhaustive, but intended to stimulate consideration of the various leaks that genuine transparency could meaningfully address. We know that there are many persons and companies that are presently receiving various forms of government “benefits” under the radar of public scrutiny, but what is to be expected when our democratic constitutional monarchy was never intended to function in the interest of the People.
Niccolo Machiavelli could have been referring to Antigua and Barbuda when he wrote, “each candidate behaved well in the hope of being judged worthy of election. However, this system was disastrous when the city had become corrupt. For then it was not the most virtuous but the most powerful who stood for election, and the weak, even if virtuous, were too frightened to run for office.” Only when we the People recognize the pressing obligation to “get outa dat” puerile party politics and get into voting for men and women of proven character and integrity, will we see the first semblance of government that functions “for the People”.
The Scarlet Pimpernel is the nom de plume of an Antiguan born “knowledge broker” whose intercontinental exploits involve work as a university founder and educator, military strategist, international legal consultant, United States prosecutor, published author, trade advisor in Latin America and international investment counselor. The inimitable acuity of the “Pimpernel” is sought after by entrepreneurs, investors and governments from Dubai to Brazil. Recent work, created for Latin America, which speaks to the conjunction of technology and education to reduce cost, motivate students and improve testing results will be translated and introduced to school systems across the Caribbean later this year. “Employing anonymity to domesticate the ego ...”