Renewing Mother Earth
May 17, 2019
It’s still not about the numbers
May 17, 2019

Corruption – not so petty

By Lara Pickford-Gordon,
Twitter: @gordon_lp

A relative was taken to the Port of Spain General Hospital after being in a serious motor vehicle accident September 1962; the taxi driver was killed.

A vein in her forearm had been cut so the wound was hurriedly treated and stitched up. A couple days later she came down with fever caused by an infection: the wound had not been cleaned properly.

A nurse advised her father to put some money in an envelope and give it to the doctor. That was one of other payments made to more than one doctor as other medical complications developed and she even received Last Rites. It was a case of life and death and she said the money was given “to get priority”.

Citizenry help facilitate “petty” corruption in practices such as this and paying to get homes or using our contacts to advance our cause. How many of us, myself included engage in activities which are the norm without thinking beyond?

Systems failure

Dr Terrence Farrell, economist, lawyer, mediator, responding to questions from the Catholic News said petty corruption “occurs in almost all areas of national life from driver’s licences, customs, getting housing, placement in secondary schools, getting a passport, even getting tickets to fetes. I believe it arises because systems don’t work or are perceived to not work fairly, and people then engage in corruption in order to get what they desire”.

Farrell, author of the book We Like It so? The Cultural Roots of Economic Underachievement in Trinidad and Tobago commenting on why corruption is so pervasive said, “My hypothesis is that the economic and political systems in the West Indies including Trinidad and Tobago did not work in the interests of the residents of the place.”

He explained, “In order to survive and ‘get through’, we had to adopt stratagems which could defeat the system and enable us to get what we thought we needed; this led to the adoption of particular attitudes toward the law in which the law was not followed.”

Since colonial days

Corruption has been part of the society since colonial times. Farrell said Spanish residents broke their own laws to trade with the enemy. He stated over the past 30 years there has been greater media and other scrutiny of corruption e.g. Transparency International (TI), a non-profit formed to combat global corruption and the Extractive Industries Transparency Institute, a global standard for the good governance of oil, gas and mineral resources.

“The media exposed the ‘Panama Papers’ which detailed money laundering and tax evasion. In our case, we have in place various pieces of legislations such as the Prevention of Corruption, Proceeds of Crime Act, and the Financial Intelligence Unit in the Ministry of Finance.  In complying with international efforts to address tax evasion, Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act for example, there is greater scrutiny and reporting on suspicious financial transactions by banks and other agencies.”

Farrell said whistleblowing is very important in organisations. If people can report corruption safely there is greater chance it will be reduced and eventually eliminated. Wrongdoers also had to be punished “in exemplary fashion”.

The TT Transparency Institute (TTTI) had received more than 100 complaints over the past two and a half years. Of this number just about five per cent are about corrupt practices in the public and private sector. Fear prevents people from filing complaints.

For 2018 T&T ranked 78 out of 180 countries in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). The results are based on surveys of independent institutions, business people and analysts. T&T received a score of 41 out of 100 (0 is highly corrupt, 100 very clean).

Pursuing matters is a challenge without evidence being provided. TTTI Chairman Dion Abdool told CN, “It is easy to verbally complain but we need something tangible.”

Out of the five per cent, he said two-three per cent will give information which could establish a prima facie case which is referred to a senior lawyer to go to the “next level”.


The TTTI Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC), established in 2013 provides free and confidential assistance to victims of or witnesses to acts of corruption. Persons wishing to file a complaint can call 626-3797 or email

Abdool clarified the ALAC is not an investigative body or resources to pursue legal matters. After sufficient evidence has been received matters can be referred to the Integrity Commission, Fraud Squad or Anti-Corruption Investigation Bureau.

Abdool said the ALAC is a specialised legal aid clinic, which gives legal advice to the public about the law in relation to the complaint. (

TTTI has been lobbying for whistleblower legislation. TI defines whistleblowing as the disclosure of information about a perceived wrongdoing in an organisation, or the risk thereof, to individuals or entities believed to be able to effect action.

Abdool said this legislation was key to combatting corruption because it can play an essential role in exposing corruption, fraud, mismanagement and other wrongdoing which threaten the role of law, financial integrity, human rights and the environment.

It will also provide protection for victims and witnesses and safeguards to ensure individuals are not prosecuted for reporting wrongdoing or standing up against corruption.

The Watergate Scandal is a classic example of the impact of a whistleblower. The scandal which unfolded 1972–1974, forced US President Richard Nixon’s resignation and led to indictment and conviction of several high-ranking officials under Nixon.

An anonymous source, dubbed ‘Deep Throat’ shared information with Washington Post reporters Bob Woodard and Mark Bernstein. He was named in 2005 as W Mark Felt, former associate director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

“Legislation would also reinforce the view that at the highest levels of governance in our country, there is an understanding that we need a corruption free nation if we are to address the major issues which plague our country and dominate headlines daily,” Abdool said.

The Whistleblower Protection Bill did not get the required three-fifths majority needed in the House of Representatives since Opposition members voted against on May 6. The Opposition had issue with clauses in the bill which impacted on constitutional rights and the breach of contractual obligations between employer with respect to confidentiality. A call was made for the bill to go to a Joint Select Committee.