Caribbean ministers have their hands in the till

Brian Lara has been named in the deep scandal that has engulfed cricket. The Indians have suspended those named in the investigation; the Pakistanis, less eager, have fined some of their players. In Trinidad, Lara spoke through the West Indies Cricket Board, the authority that is supposed to discipline him. And I know that, whether Lara is guilty or not, perhaps 90 per cent of people across the Caribbean would not bat an eyelid on hearing of this corruption. In those tiny islands, all are consumed.

I highlighted some of this in my Channel 4 documentary about the Caribbean, Trouble in Paradise, and I doubt very much that any Caribbean government would now allow me access to make a film for international broadcast on any issue of importance. In Trinidad and Tobago, I was referred to as a traitor, a sycophant to the English and any other abuse you care to imagine.

Yet, since that broadcast, more corruption has emerged in that oil-rich country. Just days ago, a former government minister - once described by the prime minister as his most successful minister - had his home and office raided by the police. They were investigating the murder of a local councillor who had refused to collude with the minister's corrupt practices. Hours after the raid, the minister disappeared to the US and has not been seen or heard of since. I am told that the population took it in their stride. His feet had barely touched US soil when his successor's home and office were raided as well, on suspicion of fraud.

Every check and balance has been ignored. For example, there is a board to consider tenders for government contracts and to award the contracts accordingly. But it comes into play only when the tenders are worth more than a minimum amount; for anything below that figure, the minister can award a contract without the board's approval. So what happens? Ministers break down the big contracts into several smaller ones. Friends, relatives, favoured constituents sup at this huge trough, which is worth millions.

Please allow me to pile agony upon agony about the state of the modern Caribbean. We need to be on our guard in Britain, lest our people of Caribbean origin become infected by this murderous virus.

An assistant commissioner of police in Jamaica was recently shot because he failed to share equally in a cocaine deal. He was said to be responsible for the free passage of the drug from Colombia via Jamaica to the US. It is rumoured that a government minister is up to his neck in it. This is not a rare happenstance. It has become a way of life.

I subscribe to a weekly newspaper, Outlet, published in Antigua. For the past four weeks, the front pages have carried details of what happens to the revenue raised from a special health tax. Yes, ministers, civil servants, pharmacists have been ripping off the public purse. It is one of the best pieces of investigative journalism I have ever read. The evidence is overwhelming.

Time magazine once described the government of Antigua as "arguably the most corrupt government on the planet". Yet it is returned to power in election after election. To repeat: all are consumed. There are no exceptions. The leaders of former colonial countries have appropriated the national treasuries as their personal bank accounts.

I understand that one of our Northern Ireland ministers was accommodated by the government of Antigua in his summer holiday. I make no political point here; but it is a duty of public service on my part to warn him about the company he keeps.

Back to Trinidad. Recent judgements by the Privy Council, which make it difficult to enforce capital punishment, triggered off enormous hostility to such civilised behaviour. One parliamentarian - a former high commissioner in London - was so enraged that he accused the Blair administration of withholding aid from Caribbean governments that failed to promote homosexuality. He was loudly cheered by his fellow MPs.

And back to cricket. I can predict the popular attitude: "If government minister can do it, who is me to do otherwise?"

Darcus Howe is an outspoken writer, broadcaster and social commentator. His TV work includes ‘White Tribe’ in which he put Anglo-Saxon Britain under the spotlight. He also fronted a series called Devil’s Advocate.

This article first appeared in the 13 November 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - The fall of civic culture