Year after year, administration after administration, we hear allegations of Governments being “bought” by big businesses usually tourism establishments. While these allegations have never been substantiated, they are most often raised when decisions are made that appear arbitrary or illogical to ordinary people. Governments are considered to be “bought” when developers seem to get their way to the detriment of the Anguillian people. Such allegations have again resurfaced and while I am in no position to confirm or refute them, they do highlight the need to address the larger issues of transparency and accountability.
It appears to be a widely accepted cultural practice that candidates seeking election to political office may use various forms of bribery to secure votes. It should therefore not be surprising that persons seeking political office and persons in office are also prime targets for bribery. When developers or other persons of means seek to advance their profit-making agendas, many are prone to using clever tactics to manipulate political leaders. It may not be in obvious ways such as passing money “under the table” – it can take the form of special treatment like free flights, private dinners, resort stays etc, but the end result is that leaders are compromised and therefore unable to make objective decisions for fear of falling out of favour with developers, and even having the “cat let out of the bag” with regard to the receipt of favours. There is a saying that “there are no free rides”, and time and time again, this has proven true. When leaders receive favours, favours are expected in return and they feel obligated to comply with the associated demands.
All leaders must guard themselves against this threat. They must exercise prudence in their dealings with persons who come offering milk and honey. They must be wary of persons who want to support their political ambitions. It is disheartening that, to date, Anguilla does not have legislation that addresses the issue of campaign financing. Administration after administration has not touched the issue. To me, the message is clear. There is no real desire to change the status quo where this is concerned. If leaders have nothing to hide then this should be a priority. It would be one way of putting an end to the speculations, laying the allegations to rest, and demonstrating that their hands are clean. What better way to show commitment to transparency and accountability than to pass legislation that deals with campaign financing? I can’t think of any. It is not fool-proof, but when there is an obligation to disclose your source of financing, one must think carefully about the legitimacy of those sources.
Many of us have watched crime dramas where in order to get to the bottom of an investigation, it is said you must “follow the money”. In fact, we are seeing this play out right now with the inquiry being conducted into the operations of the Anguilla Tourist Board by the Public Accounts Committee of the Anguilla House of Assembly. If you listen to the proceedings you will realise that many of the questions surround the audited financial statements and the findings of the audit report. Issues of financial management and accountability are providing sound insight into the way the organisation was managed. A similar mechanism is needed to probe into campaign finances. When we follow the money, it is bound to provide insight into whether or not a governing administration is ethically compromised. But, how are we going to get legislators to enact legislation to police themselves? I don’t have an answer to that question. However, if they are as committed to transparency and accountability, as they claim to be, they should all be in full support and give this top priority on this legislative agenda.
The public deserves answers. We deserve to know whether or not the speculations are true. We deserve to know whether or not our leaders have been “bought” like Judas Iscariot. We deserve leaders with integrity – who are not afraid to legislate for a mechanism that enables us to “follow the money.”