Whistleblowers should receive financial reward for exposing corrupt behaviour, legislator Bernie Bush told Commonwealth government heads at a conference in Antigua.
Mr. Bush, a recently elected United Democratic Party representative from West Bay, said offering a financial incentive would help get around the “anti-snitching” culture, which he said was hindering efforts to fight wrongdoing across the Caribbean. The proposal was one of a number of suggestions put forward on fighting corruption in the region. He also argued that the Cayman Islands’ immigration system, in its current form, had failed to benefit locals and led to the exploitation of some foreign workers, through low wages.
Mr. Bush made his comments at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for the Caribbean, Americas and Atlantic Region conference last month. It was his maiden political speech, given in front of an audience of legislators, government heads and house speakers, including representatives from the Caribbean, Canada and Malta.
He said corruption has been a key issue in Cayman Islands elections and needs to be addressed.
“We need to educate the public on corruption and the damage it can do to our society. In the Caribbean, we need to get rid of the anti ‘snitching’ or ‘informer’ culture that discourages people from reporting wrongdoing. While it is a step in the right direction to enact legislation to protect whistleblowers, maybe we need to explore other options, such as a financial reward for exposing corruption as is the case in the US.”
Whistleblowers are protected under the Freedom of Information Law, 2007, which came into effect in January 2009. Government leaders who approved the legislation stated at the time that civil servants who report what they believe is illegal activity, even if they make a mistake, are protected under the law.
Section 50 of the legislation reads: “No person may be subjected to any legal, administrative or employment-related sanction, regardless of any breach of a legal or employment-related obligation, for releasing information on a wrongdoing.”
Wrongdoing is defined in the law as the commission of a criminal offence, failure to comply with a legal obligation, a miscarriage of justice, corruption, dishonesty or serious maladministration.
Earlier this year, Cayman Islands Complaints Commissioner Nicola Williams began investigating whether adequate protections exist for “reporters of wrongdoing” within the Cayman Islands government.
She said at the time, “Whether employed by government or not, what happens in government affects us all, directly or indirectly, so if a whistleblower is punished for doing the right thing, government maladministration will continue unchecked.”
In his speech to the Commonwealth leaders, Mr. Bush also highlighted problems with the Cayman Islands’ reliance on imported labour.
“Our free market economy is now corrupted by a system where more than 50 per cent of the labour on the islands is controlled by employers via the work visa process.
“This control has resulted in salaries and wages being distorted, creating an environment where some workers have not seen a pay increase in over seven years, despite an increase in the cost of living.”
He said the system is open to exploitation.
“It creates an environment that encourages corruption, as some people will try to influence the process to get ahead.
“This influence could either be a Caymanian lobbying to get a work visa rejected so that they can get the job, or the employer pushing to get a permit through to keep a particular employee and save costs – either way, it creates an environment that encourages the interference in this process to ensure a particular outcome. Is that greed? Or is that corruption?”
He also argued that the media needs to be held to account, highlighting the phone hacking scandal in the UK.
He added, “Just as how government officials have to declare their interest publicly, maybe it is time that media houses declare their interest to ensure that there are no conflicts. We must ensure that members of the press are held to the highest journalistic standards to avoid a situation such as that which occurred in the UK, which erodes confidence in the press.”
He said the emphasis in anti-corruption efforts should be broader than solely on elected officials. “We need to start focusing on all sides of the equation in order to win this battle,” Mr. Bush said.