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Barbados can be a beacon for the region – if it avoids some of its neighbours’ mistakes | Kenneth Mohammed

The charismatic prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, elevated her country’s status in the world with her stinging speech at Cop26 in Glasgow last month. This speech resonated throughout the West Indies, a region that has largely been devoid of a strong leader to give these vulnerable small island developing states (SIDS) a voice in the climate crisis debate. The survival of SIDS such as Barbados depends on the finance to invest in measures to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C, which was the Paris agreement’s main objective.

Mottley called on all leaders of developed countries to step up their efforts as she outlined a solution embodied in flexible development finance. First, create a loss and damage fund made up of 1% of revenues from fossil fuels (which she estimated would amount to about $70bn, or £50bn, a year), accessible only to countries that have suffered a climate disaster and loss of 5% of their economy.

In addition, Mottley demanded special drawing rights (SDR) of $500bn a year over the next two decades, to accompany the proposed $50bn IMF resilience and sustainability trust targeted at the most vulnerable countries. SDRs – funds from the IMF to supplement countries’ reserves – are allocated to countries according to the size of their economy. Sadly, and counterintuitively, richer nations receive most of the support. However, G20 members have graciously agreed to reallocate some of this money to nations with lesser resources.

A few weeks later, Mottley, a strong advocate for reparations for slavery and colonisation, was again in the news as Barbados instituted significant constitutional change to become a republic. By removing Queen Elizabeth as their head of state, and replacing her with President Sandra Mason, Barbados, an island with a population of about 290,000, joined Dominica, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago, all of which became republics in the 1970s. However, like the other Caribbean nations, Barbados remains part of the Commonwealth.

A significant but often overlooked fact is that Barbados performs well on Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index (CPI) and its global corruption barometer. In the 2020 CPI, Barbados scored 64 and was ranked 24th out of 179 countries, leading the Caribbean. The worst-performing country in the region was Trinidad and Tobago, which scored 40 and ranked 86th.

Trinidad and Tobago, one of the world’s oldest oil-producing countries, a republic since 1976 and a high-incomedeveloping country, is today suffering from the real long-term effects of the “resource curse”, corruption and decades of poor and myopic leadership. The main avenue that facilitates corruption in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as most other Caribbean islands, is through government procurement by ministries and state-owned enterprises, rewarding party financiers, friends and family members with inflated contracts. Poor procurement legislation and an absence of laws on party funding are hallmarks of corrupt nations.

Why has Barbados done better than other Caribbean countries in alleviating corruption? In other British territories, there have been allegations of significant political corruption, major governance issues and even claims of criminal gangs infiltrating the elected and administrative branches of government.

Sandra Mason, Barbados’s first president, centre, with Prince Charles, left, and Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, right, after Mason’s inauguration in Bridgetown. Photograph: Getty

The answer may be that Barbados has had stronger institutions, more transparent public procurement and better anti-corruption policies and legislation. It has also had good governance and visionary leadership since Mottley took office in 2018. It could also be that the island’s financial mainstay lies in tourism and not in the venal oil and gas industry, with its huge windfalls providing incentives for corruption.

Regardless, Barbados can learn a lot from the mistakes of Trinidad and Tobago, which has not just had several corruption allegations surrounding politicians over the years but has also seen much public resentment towards the presidential office, which is seen as a drain on the country’s resources and an ineffective, neo-colonial mantle.

Barbados can be a beacon in making the president’s role more meaningful and relevant, ensuring strong institutions, and overseeing the fight against corruption. With presidential oversight, an independent, forthright, anti-corruption agency, supported by effective legislation, and a diligent and expert financial intelligence unit, can remove incentives for bribery and kickbacks within public services, police, parliamentarians and the office of the prime minister.

When political corruption does occur, a process of financial investigation, thorough tracing of assets and their recovery complement the anti-corruption toolkit. This will be fundamental in the fight but will also ensure that any perception of corruption diminishes in Barbados as the nation moves higher up the ranking towards a developed nation score.

The president must not be simply a figurehead but must proactively remove any anachronistic duties and establish a role that is relevant and modern in creating a society of integrity among its public officials.

Corruption is a cancer that creates inequality by harming development and economic growth. Aid to alleviate poverty, disease or climate disaster can easily be siphoned away by corrupt officials, unless measures are installed to prevent this.

Both Barbados’s new president, Sandra Mason, and Mia Mottley, the prime minister, need to present a united front of integrity in ensuring transparency and accountability in all matters of government expenditure, including the allocation of climate change funding outlined at Cop26.

Mason and the rest of the Caribbean’s presidents and prime ministers must follow the inspirational example of Mottley in being outspoken, courageous and irreproachable. The region desperately needs it.

Kenneth Mohammed is a senior adviser at Intelligent Sanctuary.

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