An article captioned “Corruption on the rise in the Caribbean”, was carried in the Curacao Chronicle of March 7. It quoted from Transparency International, an organisation dedicated to fighting corruption globally. Four Eastern Caribbean countries were listed on the Corruption Perception Index for 2017.
St Vincent and the Grenadines scored 58, with Dominica, 57, St. Lucia, 55, Grenada, 52 and Barbados, 68. Jamaica was at 44, Trinidad and Tobago, 41. Under the listing, 100 is very clean and 0 is highly corrupt. Of course, I was interested in SVG’s rating. On the list for the period 2013- 2017, SVG had moved from 62 in 2013 to 58 in 2017.
The Index stated that 2/3 of the 180 countries listed scored below 50, with an average of 43. SVG and the other eastern Caribbean countries listed were above the 50 mark, but a cloud hangs over the region and we need to be on the alert. On May 16, the Barbados Nation had a news item captioned “Investment and Trade Minister resigns amid new scandal.”
The story was about Antigua and was naturally carried in the Antigua Observer. Asot Michael, the Trade and Investment Minister, had resigned amid allegations that he was among Caribbean politicians who had received bribes from British investor Peter Virdee, who was an investor in a 1,000-acre development in Barbuda and also in solar power plant projects.
Virdee and his business partner Dieter Trutschler, had been accused of involvement in a £43 million VAT fraud and had made an application to the High Court in London for return of items seized by the National Crime Agency.
During the proceedings, excerpts of a telephone conversation that spoke about Asot Michael, who was then Minister of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment and Energy, were made public.
The conversation was secretly recorded by German Law Enforcement. Virdee alleged that Minister Michael had demanded $2 million as his personal payment, and a car for his mother, for putting them in touch with other Caribbean politicians and whatever else he had agreed to do for them. One other politician that was identified was PM Harris of St. Kitts/Nevis, who was to get a £2,000 watch and was to be taken to lunch; the investors seeking to get him to make a commitment, seemingly for a project in St. Kitts. As is to be expected, both politicians denied the allegations.
Michael had been arrested for a short period in London in October and was stripped then, of his ministerial portfolio, but contested the last election and was made a Minister again.
In denying his involvement, he stated that Antigua and Barbuda and his government had always been of foremost importance to him. PM Harris claimed that the matter referred to, started in 2014, in a period that preceded his government and that they had not entered into any agreement with the parties mentioned, which precisely was the concern of Virdee and his partner.
What does this disgraceful and sickening behaviour say about our state of affairs? Politicians asking for watches, motor car and million dollars! The details are still coming out, but this should not only be a wake-up call, but also a powerful lesson.
We are part of the global community, but our politicians are small fish swimming in big waters. Investors have obviously done their research. They come to the region, often driven by sinister motives and are ready to play ball. There is a jungle out there.
Our politicians know that, but we still think we are living in an age of innocence. When investors delay paying their workers, there might indeed be method in their madness. This story focuses on Antigua/Barbuda and St. Kitts/ Nevis, but it has a Caribbean smell. We need to wake up and smell the coffee!