To address the “corrosive cancer” that is corruption, governments will need to recommit to the fight against graft and put their words into action, according to Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland.
Speaking to delegates from across the Caribbean on Monday, Scotland encouraged unity in tackling what she described as a global “tidal wave of corruption” that erodes tax bases, undermines economic stability and destroys public confidence.
In a gesture of goodwill and mutual support, regional anti-corruption stakeholders gathered at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort for the fifth meeting of the Commonwealth Caribbean Association of Integrity Commissions & Anti-Corruption Bodies.
The five-day meeting, 3-7 June, will allow anti-corruption bodies to discuss common goals for eradicating graft and fraud across the Commonwealth.
“We who are gathered here know only too well the vicious economic, social and political impact that is wrought by entrenched corruption in the lives of the people of our communities and in the lives of our nations,” Scotland said.
“International organisations, development practitioners, and leaders who are sensitive to the plight of their people and the well-being of their countries, all recognise that corruption undermines and undoes development.”
Objectives enshrined in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, such as reducing hunger and inequality, fall to the wayside, Scotland said, when public dollars are siphoned off by tax avoidance and misappropriation of funds.
“By impairing the ability of governments to collect tax fairly and efficiently, corruption diverts resources away from the vitally important investments that need to be made in areas such as health, education, and renewable energy,” Scotland said.
“It tends to attract financing towards wasteful projects with only short-term payoffs or negative impact.”
In the Caribbean, as elsewhere, effectively tackling corruption will mean aligning words with action. It is not enough to pass laws that cannot be enforced, said Rosie Whittaker-Myles, chairperson for Cayman’s Commission for Standards in Public Life.
“Many of us have passed and enforced laws but lack the resources to carry out our mandates. A few of us have no laws and no commissions. Some of us have commissions but inadequate laws or laws that have not been brought into force while others have inadequately staffed commissions, which impedes their effectiveness,” Whittaker-Myles said.
“Although some strides have been made towards our common goals of eradicating corruption in our societies, there is more to be done.”
One example of an anti-corruption law that has not been brought into force is Cayman’s own Standards in Public Life Law, passed in 2014.
The public disclosures mandated by the legislation provoked complaints by some board and commission members, who argued that the law’s scope was too broad. A commencement date for the law has yet to be set.
Governor Martyn Roper acknowledged the efforts made by the commission, despite years of delays in implementing the accompanying law.
“Whilst the Commission for Standards in Public Life awaits the implementation date for the Standards in Public Life Law, it does not sit idle, as evidenced by its involvement in hosting this week’s conference,” Roper said.
He recognised the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission, which he said has received 166 reports since its inception, resulting in several arrests, convictions and investigations. He also pointed to the enactment of the Whistleblower Protection Law in 2018 as a step forwards in stamping out public sector fraud.
To strengthen efforts against corruption, Scotland recommended a three-pronged approach that focusses on research, capacity-building and networking. A part of this strategy is the creation of regional anti-corruption agencies and training centres.
Such networks and collaboration will be especially important moving forward for small jurisdictions such as the Cayman Islands. As such, Scotland hopes knowledge sharing and establishing common benchmarks will position the Commonwealth as a global example of excellence.
“We assist our small states with access to sustainable financing,” she said, “and help them to build their resilience, and to make their voices heard on the global stage.
“Indeed, at this time when multilateralism is under threat, and we see nationalism and narrow self-interest on the rise, the Commonwealth shines as a beacon of hope and promise. Collaboration, based on the needs and perspectives of all members of our diverse family of nations, is central to our Commonwealth approach.”