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When Corruption is Normalized, Everyone Suffers

Once again, and with great reluctance, I have been moved to comment on an issue of national importance in our Federation.  The issue of consideration here is the Virdee & Trutschler v NCA Court Judgement released last week that suggests that our Prime Minister may have been involved in certain dealings that could be interpreted as a form of bribery.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary:

“What is BRIBERY?

In criminal law. The receiving or offering any undue reward by or to any person whomsoever, whose ordinary profession or business relates to the administration of public justice, in order to influence his behavior, and to incline him to act contrary to his duty and the known rules of honesty and integrity. Hall v. Marshall, 80 Ky. 552; Walsh v. People, 05 111. 05, 16 Am. Rep. 509; Com. v. Murray, 135 Mass. 530; Hutchinson v. State, 36 Tex. 294. The term “bribery” now extends further, and includes the offense of giving a bribe to many other classes of officers; it applies both to the actor and receiver, and extends to voters, cabinet ministers, legislators, sheriffs, and other classes.

Three commentaries pertaining to this bribery issue have given me food for thought. The first is by Her Excellency Dr. Thelma Phillip-Browne entitled “I ain’t voting for no pope, no parson or member of the vestry! A voting for my contract!” in which she opined:

“I am not going to get into shoes and watches, nuts and bolts, millions and thousands but I googled political gift- giving and it is extremely common. (I note than no mention was made of gifts to UK politicians but article indicated a political party donor and some key associates).

I am not saying it is right but individuals, businesses, lobbyists do it all the time in one form or another as there are always willing recipients.

What many countries and states have done is to limit the value of gifts and or make them disclosable by law thereby improving transparency. I know many politicians whose homes and offices were full of gifts but not the circumstances of how they received them.

Disclosure is certainly needed in our Caribbean countries so yes, Integrity in Public Life!

Term limits!

The Contract!”

The second commentary was by Charles Wilkin QC entitled “Comments on Virdee” in which he started:

“I am not in a position to say whether the allegations made by Virdee against our PM are true or not. Nor did the U.K. Court make that judgment. We will no doubt hear further if and when Virdee is tried on the charges of bribery. We will then hear what other evidence if any the U.K. Police have in this matter. Until then we have to allow the PM the presumption of innocence. But his blanket denial is not sufficient. Whether Virdee lied or not his allegations create potentially adverse implications for the name of our country. Therefore the country deserves full disclosure on all connections between Virdee and officials here past and present. We need full information about any investment he made or sought to make and who in this and/or the former government he dealt with. What was the business he sought to do and what was his proposal? How did the government respond? Who did he meet with, where and when? These are but some of the many questions that should be answered.”

and then concluded:

“The transcripts set out in the UK judgment show that Mr. Virdee was very concerned about election campaign contributions. This should be a wake up call for the need for campaign finance rules to require disclosure of donations to campaigns. Whether his allegations against the politicians are true Mr. Virdee clearly thinks that he can influence elections. He is not alone in this regard. People like him who have politicians in their pocket make a mockery of our electoral system and our democracy. The continued failure of politicians on all sides to address this issue leaves them open to suspicion that they like it the way it is. So do their benefactors and rulers. But ultimately it is the taxpayer who pays the donors back for their contributions not the political parties nor the politicians.

And the third commentary was by Konris Maynard MP entitled ‘Queen’s Counsel or Spin Doctor?’ in which he suggested, among other things, that there were conflation with local political issues that served to water down the bribery allegations.  He wrote:

“In his opening, Wilkin gives Prime Minister Harris a soft pass by stating that he is ‘not in a position to say whether the allegations made by Virdee against our PM are true or not’. However, he spends a large part of the commentary passing judgment on the former Prime Minister with his handling of the CBI program. Mr. Wilkin goes on to ask for full disclosure on several matters such as investments made or sought, businesses sought, Government responses, meetings with present or former Government Officials, citizenship granted, name of economic citizens with Diplomatic Passports, etc. Really? Can any of these disclosures justify Dr. Timothy Harris begging for and demanding an expensive watch or a pair of shoes or a big dinner and an after party according to the UK billionaire? Can these disclosures wash away the international smear and embarrassment that our Prime Minister, Dr. The Hon. Timothy Harris, was named and identified in court documents surrounding a judicial review case in the Royal Court of Justice in the UK where a court says “Without going into particulars, and putting the matter at its very lowest, we have no doubt that a judge considering the passages we have quoted would regard them as capable of giving rise to a reasonable inference that the claimants were willing in principle to make corrupt gifts and to pay bribes, but felt that the Caribbean politicians with whom they were dealing were asking for too much?” Can these disclosures somehow improve the image of our Governance practices when in nearby Antigua & Barbuda, in short time, the other named Minister in the court transcripts has resigned while pleading his innocence, clearly putting the Country first before personality?

In every advanced democracy, this level of implied wrongdoing certified by a court, supported by irrefutable facts, along with glaring international spotlight, almost always results in resignations and/or suspensions FIRST and then full disclosures after thorough investigations. Is the learned QC suggesting that we go through a process of full disclosure while everything remains the same? Which best practice is this???

A request for full disclosure is a smoke screen and a diversion to give Dr. Timothy Harris time to sort himself out.”

Interestingly, he used the occasion to find common ground to register a discontent shared with the previous commentator as it pertains to election financing, and of which I am in total agreement, and of which I interpret as a message also being sent to the leader of his own party:

“Where the QC and I agree though is that there is an urgent need for campaign finance laws. Politicians in modern St. Kitts‐Nevis must not be controlled by a few who have deep pockets. Campaign finance laws will be an important improvement in strengthening the credibility of our electoral process and I am willing to be part of any genuine attempt to usher in this level of transparency.”

What these three commentaries bring readily to mind is that many of us, including me, and especially our political leaders, are already compromised and conflicted, by what we do and say, and also by what we fail to do or say.

Firstly, we have a virulent corrupting mind virus in our midst that has been normalized and appears to be the order of the day.  As expressed in an article I penned four years ago in “Unspinning” the spin – Tuning away from mindless allegiance to authority and tuning in to mindful devotion to authenticity:

“When it comes to spin, “What to believe or not to believe, that is the question?” This is a question I have to admit has no answer, and here is the reason why I have come to this depressing conclusion. I consider myself an above average and well read and informed individual, and I made it my business to analyse the data presented on both sides of the political platform, to as they say, differentiate the “mauby from the froth” so that I can derive “more light than heat” from the issues. Unfortunately, I have to say after listening to both sides, and admittedly, more so from the incumbents than the opposition, I am left frothing from the mouth and overheated!! So now imagine, if that is me, what do you think is going through the minds of the majority who are less than above average? How do you even begin to help them differentiate the signals from the noise in the political rhetoric?

Do we have any non-partisan non-governmental organisation that can help us in this regard to do fact checks that is not only critical of the incumbents but also of the opposition when they both try to “dazzle us with glitter and bamboozle us with half-truths?” How are we, the electorate, when the occasion arises, to rise to the occasion to make our vote count in the best interest of the country, when the information that guides us is at best distorted and at worse not even available? How can we tell that we are dealing with fact or fiction? To tell you the honest truth, I do not know.

So what do we do in the mean time when everything that comes from the political platform has to be questioned if we cannot trust the information that comes from the authorities? Who is out there to guide us? How do we proceed? As is always the case for me, whenever I start to meditate on these deep questions, the answers present themselves to me via quotes, which I have now added to my email signatures to constantly remind me of what is true and authentic and what is not, and I would like to now share them with you. I do hope that many of you would be as enlightened as I was and still am, as these quotes have provided me with some tools to help navigate onward. So here goes:

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” – Andre Lorde

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Secondly, in trying to understand the risk factors for corruption at the individual level, it was brought home to me in the article “Sick Individuals or Sick Populations”, that we need to stop blaming the perpetrators, as they are also the victims of the political and economical systems we have inherited, as by design, the are intrinsically corrupting.  In other words, in order to understand why individuals have become corrupted and have lost their integrity of public stewardship and guardianship, we will have to realize that we have become conflicted and compromised by the corrupting rules of engagement of the system.  By doing so, we will eventually be able to find and address the cause of the causes of this corruption, to find out why corruption thrives in its fifty shades of grey.

A recent attempt to do so in cultural evolutionary terms and to provide a fix was provided in the technical article entitled “Bribery, Cooperation, and the Evolution of Prosocial Institutions“. It opined:

“So can we fix it?

The usual answer is transparency. There are also some interesting approaches, like tying a leader’s salary to the country’s GDP—the Singaporean model [10]. So what happened when we introduced these strategies? Well, when the public goods multiplier was high (economic potential—potential to make money using legitimate means—was high) or the institution had power to punish, then contributions went up. Not to levels without bribery as an option, but higher. But in poor contexts with weak punishing institutions, transparency had no effect or backfired. As did the Singaporean model [11]. Why?

Consider what transparency does. It tells us what people are doing. But as psychological and cultural evolutionary research reveals, this solves a common knowledge problem and reveals the descriptive norm—what people are doing. For it to have any hope of changing behavior, we need a prescriptive or proscriptive norm against corruption. Without this, transparency just reinforces that everyone is accepting bribes and you’d be a fool not to. People who have lived in corrupt countries will have felt this frustration first hand. There’s a sense that it’s not about bad apples—the society is broken in ways that are sometimes difficult to articulate. But societal norms are not arbitrary. They are adapted to the local environment and influenced by historical contexts. In our experiment, the parameters created the environment. If there really is no easy way to legitimately make money and the state doesn’t have the power to punish free-riders, then bribery really is the right option. So even among Canadians, admittedly some of the nicest people in the world, in these in-game parameters, corruption was difficult to eradicate. When the country is poor and the state has no power, transparency doesn’t tell you not to pay a bribe, it solves a different problem—it tells you the price of the bribe. Not “should I pay”, but “how much”?

There were some other nuances to the experiment that deserve follow up. If we had played the game in Cameroon instead of Canada, we suspect baseline bribery would have been higher. Indeed, people with direct exposure to corruption norms encouraged more corruption in the game controlling for ethnic background. And those with an ethnic background that included more corrupt countries, but without direct exposure were actually better cooperators than the 3rd generation+ Canadians. These results may reveal some of the effects of migration and historical path dependence. Of course, great caution is required in applying these results to the messiness of the real world. We hope to further investigate these cultural patterns in future work.

The experiment also reveals that corruption may be quite high in developed countries, but its costs aren’t as easily felt. Leaders in richer nations like the United States may accept “bribes” in  the form of lobbying or campaign funding and these may indeed be costly for the efficiency of the economy, but it may be the difference between a city building 25 or 20 schools. In a poor country similar corruption may be the difference between a city building 3 or 1 school. Five is more than 3, but 3 is three times more than 1. In a rich nation, the cost of corruption may be larger in absolute value, but in a poorer nation, it may be larger in relative value and felt more acutely.

The take home is that cooperation and corruption are two sides of the same coin; different scales of cooperation competing. This approach gives us a powerful theoretical and empirical toolkit for developing a framework for understanding corruption, why some states succeed and others fail, why some oscillate, and the triggers that may lead to failed states succeeding and successful states failing.

Our cultural evolutionary biases lead us to look for whom to learn from and perhaps whom to avoid. They lead us to blame individuals for corruption. But just as atrocities are the acts of many humans cooperating toward an evil end, corruption is a feature of a society not individuals.

In order to recognize the systemic corruption in our midst and respond to eradicate it from our societies, we must first identify the masks that hide the fifty shades of corruption that have been malignantly normalized to date.  Here, I will be using the definitions of corruption as outlined in an article I wrote over 5 years ago: “Is our political system corrupt, and if so, how can we fix it?”

“A month ago, I saw a presentation The three sides of corruption by Afra Raymond at TEDxPortofSpain. Having seen it several times, I am beginning to wonder if our political system is corrupt. Mr Raymond defined corruption as “the abuse of a position of trust for the benefit of yourself, your friends, family or your financiers.” I decided then to go to the English Oxford Dictionary to get a better understanding of the meaning of corruption, and here is what I found.

Corruption is defined as “dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery.” Dishonest is defined as “behaving or prone to behave in an untrustworthy, deceitful, or insincere way.” Fraudulent is defined as “obtained, done by, or involving deception, especially criminal deception.” A crime is defined as “an action or omission which constitutes an offence and is punishable by law.” And finally bribery is defined as “the giving or offering of a bribe,” where to bribe is defined as “to dishonestly persuade (someone) to act in one’s favour by a gift of money or other inducement, where inducement is “a thing that persuades or leads someone to do something.”

At the end of the presentation, Mr. Raymond presented a formula for corruption which is reproduced here:

corruption1

At once we can recognize that lobbying and private election financing are legalized forms of corruption. But what about the “pay to play” directives of NGO’s? What about “pay for performance” incentives that encourages public servants to give more of their time and energy for the other private or party gains?  And finally, what about public-private partnerships in which the public subsidies the costs of doing business by the private sector and allow them to privatize the gains and socialize the losses? Aren’t these systemic causal mechanisms of corruption still unseen, and aren’t we blaming the victims, who are put in position of trusts, like our leaders, when the vast majority are left with little of no other option, but succumb to the bribe or be assassinated, by the economic and political hitmen recruited by Capitialism’s Invisible Army?

What I have come to appreciate is that we have a corrupt system by design that is man-made and constructed to amplify advantages and disadvantages, and the embodiment and manifestations of this systemic corruption is scattered in the many articles I have shared and opined on my blog site (if you so choose to study and recognize and respond).

What I have discovered as of late, is also that this divide and rule imperative by the ruling money class is only sustainable by a corrupting adversarial binary system of political discourse.  Why binary?  We have learnt from the three-body problem that there are no closed solutions, and they behave deterministically chaotic, meaning that very small causes can amplify into very large effects over time.  This means that if the ruling class needs to command and control us with some certainty and predictability, they can only do so by providing binary causal institutions, as a third or more body of influence will cause them to lose control. Hence the reason for two major blocks of political parties, why the middle class is being snuffed out, why unions and civil society are being disempowered by the mainstream media and academic institutions beholden to the the ruling classes, why religions distract us from this corrupt life with an “integral” after-life, why the debate is usually between big government and big business, public versus private, etc, etc.

The Achille’s heel in these controllable binary systems is that spin (aka fake news, alternative facts) is the lubricant and fuel for this corrupt system to maintain and sustain itself. The dominant group (incumbents) will always embellish the positives of their actions and diminish the negatives, and the subservient group (opposition) will always embellish the negatives and diminish the positives of the other.  This form of identity politics is the ground zero of the systemic corruption that infects many other forms of binary identities like, sexism – straight/not straight, genderism – male/female, racism – white/non-white, nationalism/colionalism/imperialism – (e.g. Zionism/Eurocentralism/American exceptionalism vs everyone else).

So what is the way forward given the insights highlighted above?

Take for example a valiant but partial attempt by our leaders to forge together a government of national unity.  To continue this revolutionary trend toward complete national unity, the opposition will need to be included at the highest political level of governance, which would mean being part of the cabinet.  What use is there for us to have a Team Unity in party name only and the country’s people is still dis-united along party lines?  Why can’t we bring the best hearts and minds of individuals and souls and spirits of the community under one roof of nation uplifting and nation building?  Why should the modus operandi of our incumbent parties be always micromanaging the dysfunctionalites and denying the rampant corruption in the system, and the creative energies and juices, of the people and their leaders that follow, are squandered in masking, deception and distraction? Don’t you think the creative potential of the nation can be better used in feeding our bodies, minds and our communities with more nutritious inputs and less toxic excrements?

The fact that we have malignantly normalized corruption is a testament to the fact we have a systemic value disorder that has severely undermined and limited the choice spaces and the freedom to choose what is wholesome and uplifting for us as individuals, as a society and the planet. We are all victims and suffer from this systemic value disorder, from the least to the greatest among us, that puts the value of money above the value of life. To regain integrity back in our lives, our societies and the planet and make whole the life-supporting systems within, among and without us, we need to reset and reground to valuing all that enables life, and steer clear from all thoughts, words and deeds that disable life. The best and in high probability, the only antidote I have found that provides the cognitive map to guide us over the full life terrain can be found here and is the best defence and also offence to get rid of this corruption in our midst once and for all and for one and all.

 

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