Governments are accountable to their citizens for good governance in the management and spending of public funds. The present government of Trinidad and Tobago has proposed the establishment of an Anti-Corruption Commission that would have the responsibility for receiving and investigating allegations of corruption as well as matters referred to it by the Integrity Commission.
Keen to facilitate dialogue on the subject, the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) organized a conference at which anti-corruption agencies – including both state and non-state actors – came together to discuss the two Commissions’ functions, as well as good governance and alternatives to the proposal.
Corrupt procurement practices have contributed to bringing down two Trinbagonian governments in recent years, so Canadian experts have been eager to assist by sharing best practices and discussing the diverse global views of Anti-Corruption Commissions. The conference offered a valuable opportunity to take advantage of international knowledge sharing and give citizens the opportunity to exercise their democratic right to contribute to the conversations and to recommend solutions to the crisis.
Supported by funding from both Canada and the European Union, the two-day public event included participants from government, the Integrity Commission, political parties, the Law Association, professional bodies and a variety of civil society organizations. Through the assistance of the High Commission of Canada to Trinidad and Tobago, the conference featured several prominent speakers, all of whom brought diverse expertise to the table – most notably Allan Cutler, President of Canadians for Accountability. With over 30 years of experience in procurement and project management, Cutler is perhaps best known for his role as whistleblower in the Canadian sponsorship scandal that rose to national prominence in 2004.
“Doing the right thing is not sufficient,” Cutler said in an editorial written in anticipation of the conference. “There must be a means for people to be shown that the right thing was done. Everyone needs to insist on transparency and on the ability to monitor government activities.”
According to Cutler, transparency and the impression of trustworthiness are of the utmost importance when it comes to matters of procurement, as this helps ensure that governments obtain the best services at competitive rates.
“Why would any firm or person waste their time bidding if they believe that the result is rigged, the determination of the winner biased, the selection method dishonest or the decision politically rigged?” Cutler asked, discussing good governance in the management and spending of public funds.
Cutler emphasized the work of Auditor Generals, third-party neutral watchdogs, and freedom of information legislation that promotes transparency by granting people the right to access government documents. Additionally, he discussed personal accountability and the importance of whistleblowers as a last resort.
“A culture of openness and transparency is required to prevent [corruption] from happening,” Cutler stated.
The Chairman of the Integrity Commission was also present and addressed the large crowd. The program included a long Q&A session that permitted all present to ask questions and express their concerns. The High Commission of Canada to Trinidad and Tobago hosted a reception following the conference, at which attendees were able to network and continue sharing knowledge with their international colleagues. Through ongoing collaboration and conversation, countries all over the world can work together to fight corruption, both at home and abroad.