Corruption charges and counter charges- the curse of Dominican politics
Undoubtedly Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and his government are under severe pressure, locally and internationally, because of the alleged sale of diplomatic passports and about the abuse of the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) programme. Recently local banks have shut down Government's accounts because of concerns over the management of the CBI and fears of money laundering. This is serious business
The opposition, recognizing the vulnerability of the Skerrit administration over that passport issue, has been demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit but it is unlikely that Skerrit will go anytime soon.
Nonetheless, the allegations of corruption won't go away too, as the main political parties are in constant campaign mode as if general elections were due soon, although it's only mid-way into the five year term of this current Skerrit administration.
As we opined in an earlier editorial, allegations of corruption and general elections are like Siamese twins: inseparable and usually difficult to tell apart. Allegations of corruption took centre stage on the eve of the 2010 and 2014 general election when Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit and members of his government were fending off a torrent of accusations from the opposition. About ten years ago, the shoe was on the other foot when the Dominica Labour Party (DLP) used a similar election campaign strategy against the United Workers Party (UWP).
During the 2000 election campaign, Dominica's shoe party, the DLP, may have convinced voters that the UWP was a corrupt government and that they should be booted out of office. Recall that the 1995-2000 Edison James administration was accused of being guilty of a number of irregularities including the distribution of government issued Local Purchase Orders (LPO) "prior to and in the course of the general elections"; the sale of State lands contrary to the provisions of the State Lands Act; the intended use of the Venture Capital Fund by ministers and supporters of the UWP; the reengineered citizenship programme including the sale of passports to Australian fugitive Christopher Skase, among others. The accusations were relentless and may be a major factor in the removal of the UWP from government.
Now, in an act of quid pro quo, the credibility of the DLP government is being kicked about by similar accusations from the UWP and other opposition parties. Mr. Skerrit and his government are facing a series of allegations of corruption, breach of trust, conflict of interest and misfeasance in office. A few of the specific allegations include the acquisition of land and buildings that are inexplicably not in line with the level of official remuneration; participation in get-rich-quick scams; distribution of fertilizers to party supporters; the deliberate use of state funds for political self-interests and the notorious "bin bobol" in which the State bought garbage bins from a brother of a minister at exorbitant prices. And now it is passport selling and goodwill ambassadors who hold Dominican diplomatic passports and who have found themselves in serious problems with law enforcement agencies all over the world.
Recall too that the issue of corruption in Dominica raised its ugly head again when the DLP administration invited the former deputy leader of the UWP, Julius Timothy, to join the Cabinet in spite of the fact that the DLP, during the 2000 campaign, painted the honourable gentleman as one of the most corrupt in the UWP government.
These apparent blind accusations followed by frivolous forgiveness give the impression that Dominican politicians and their supporters do not give the issue of corruption the serious attention that it deserves; corruption, as you know, inhibits private investments, distorts public confidence in institutions and severely reduces the effectiveness of government.
We also need to emphasize that corruption is not restricted to receiving money 'under the table' as some of us tend to believe. It also involves the consideration of personal interests in decisions to award contracts whether for the building of roads or schools, to supply equipment and services, to distribute lands and houses or fertilizer, to grant or refuse to grant licenses, to distribute jobs in public projects and in the public service to friends, relatives or supporters.
Dominican's apparent high tolerance for corruption is partly due to the fact that all governments have been accused of corruption at some point in their history, without substantiation of the specific allegations. Our experience leads us to believe that in opposition, political parties accuse the party in power of corruption but when the accusing party gains power the allegations against the other party are forgotten. Hence the reason Edison James and Julius Timothy, who were accused of corruption by the DLP, were not brought before the courts. Do not expect Roosevelt Skerrit of the DLP, who is facing similar accusations from the UWP, to suffer the ignominy of a scrutiny from the courts either. But then again Lennox Linton, the relatively new leader of the UWP, is not the usual politician.
Supporters of the UWP have expressed surprise that the strategy of accusing Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of corruption is apparently not working. As a result, the opposition party accuses the media, the Integrity in Public Office Commission and civil society generally, of a certain dereliction of duty. There may be some validity in the accusations, but there is another plausible explanation for the apparent numbness of the Dominican public. In 2000, Dominicans were duped by the DLP's election strategy of 'crying corruption'; we are afraid of being coned twice by politicians.
There is also the issue of the credibility of the accusers. As we say pots who call kettles black are not very convincing no matter how obvious the discoloration of both the pot and the kettle. Nonetheless, Dominicans would be extremely naive if they believe that politicians, on both sides of the political spectrum, have not been corrupt while their party formed the government. It's a matter of who is more corrupt.
The point we need to make clearly is that we have had our fill of corruption accusations. What we need now, more than ever before, are workable checks and balances in government and a system that effectively penalizes the guilty. Otherwise, to the detriment of our country, allegations of corruption may become just another election campaign strategy.