Afra Raymond: Three myths about corruption

Recorded atDecember 12, 2012
Duration (min:sec)17:49
Video TypeTEDx Talk
Words per minute213.73 very fast
Readability (FK)61.78 easy
SpeakerAfra Raymond
Descriptiontransparency activist; expert in property valuation

Official TED page for this talk


Trinidad and Tobago amassed great wealth in the 1970s thanks to oil -- but 2 out of every 3 dollars earmarked for development ended up wasted or stolen. This fact has haunted Afra Raymond for 30 years. Shining a flashlight on a continued history of government corruption, Raymond gives us a reframing of financial crime.

Text Highlight (experimental)
100:16 Okay, this morning I'm speaking
200:17 on the question of corruption.
300:21 And corruption is defined
400:23 as the abuse of a position of trust
500:28 for the benefit of yourself -- or, in the case of our context,
600:32 your friends, your family or your financiers.
700:35 Okay? Friends, family and financiers.
800:39 But we need to understand what we understand about corruption,
900:43 and we need to understand that
1000:46 we have been miseducated about it, and we have to admit that.
1100:49 We have to have the courage to admit that
1200:51 to start changing how we deal with it.
1300:53 The first thing is that the big myth, number one,
1400:56 is that in fact it's not really a crime.
1500:59 When we get together with friends and family
1601:00 and we discuss crime in our country,
1701:02 crime in Belmont or crime in Diego or crime in Marabella,
1801:06 nobody's speaking about corruption.
1901:07 That's the honest truth.
2001:09 When the Commissioner of Police comes on TV to talk about crime,
2101:12 he isn't speaking about corruption.
2201:14 And we know for sure when the Minister of National Security
2301:16 is speaking about crime, he's not talking about corruption either.
2401:20 The point I'm making is that it is a crime.
2501:23 It is an economic crime, because we're involving the looting of taxpayers' money.
2601:28 Public and private corruption is a reality.
2701:30 As somebody who comes from the private sector,
2801:32 I can tell you there's a massive amount of corruption
2901:35 in the private sector that has nothing to do with government.
3001:37 The same bribes and backhanders and things that take place under the table,
3101:40 it all takes place in the private sector.
3201:43 Today, I'm focusing on public sector corruption,
3301:46 which the private sector also participates in.
3401:49 The second important myth to understand --
3501:52 because we have to destroy these myths,
3601:53 dismantle them and destroy them and ridicule them --
3701:56 the second important myth to understand
3801:58 is the one that says
3902:00 that in fact corruption is only a small problem --
4002:04 if it is a problem, it's only a small problem,
4102:06 that in fact it's only a little 10 or 15 percent,
4202:10 it's been going on forever, it probably will continue forever,
4302:14 and there's no point passing any laws, because there's little we can do about it.
4402:17 And I want to demonstrate that that, too,
4502:20 is a dangerous myth, very dangerous.
4602:22 It's a piece of public mischief.
4702:24 And I want to speak a little bit,
4802:27 take us back about 30 years.
4902:29 We're coming out today from Trinidad and Tobago,
5002:31 a resource-rich, small Caribbean country,
5102:34 and in the early 1970s we had a massive increase in the country's wealth,
5202:39 and that increase was caused by the increase in world oil prices.
5302:43 We call them petrodollars. The treasury was bursting with money.
5402:46 And it's ironic, because
5502:49 we're standing today in the Central Bank.
5602:51 You see, history's rich in irony.
5702:54 We're standing today in the Central Bank,
5802:55 and the Central Bank is responsible for a lot of the things I'm going to be speaking about.
5902:59 Okay? We're talking about irresponsibility in public office.
6003:02 We're speaking about the fact that across the terrace,
6103:05 the next tower is the Ministry of Finance,
6203:07 and there's a lot of connection with us today,
6303:09 so we're speaking within your temple today. Okay?
6403:11 (Applause)
6503:16 The first thing I want to talk about is that
6603:19 when all of this money flowed into our country about 40 years ago,
6703:22 we embarked, the government of the day embarked
6803:24 on a series of government-to-government arrangements
6903:26 to have rapidly develop the country.
7003:28 And some of the largest projects in the country
7103:31 were being constructed through government-to-government arrangements
7203:34 with some of the leading countries in the world,
7303:36 the United States and Britain and France and so on and so on.
7403:38 As I said, even this building we're standing in -- that's one of the ironies --
7503:42 this building was part of that series of complexes,
7603:43 what they called the Twin Towers.
7703:47 It became so outrageous, the whole situation,
7803:50 that in fact a commission of inquiry was appointed,
7903:53 and it reported in 1982, 30 years ago it reported --
8003:57 the Ballah Report -- 30 years ago,
8104:00 and immediately the government-to-government arrangements were stopped.
8204:04 The then-Prime Minister went to Parliament
8304:06 to give a budget speech, and he said some things that I'll never forget.
8404:09 They went right in here. I was a young man at the time.
8504:11 It went right into my heart.
8604:13 And he said that, in fact — Let me see if this thing works.
8704:17 Are we getting a, yeah?—
8804:20 That's what he told us.
8904:22 He told us that, in fact,
9004:26 two out of every three dollars of our petrodollars
9104:29 that we spent, the taxpayers' money,
9204:31 was wasted or stolen.
9304:33 So the 10 or 15 percent is pure mischief.
9404:37 As we say, it's a nancy-story. Forget it.
9504:40 That's for little children. We are big people,
9604:41 and we're trying to deal with what's happening in our society.
9704:44 Okay? This is the size of the problem.
9804:46 Okay? Two thirds of the money stolen or wasted.
9904:49 That was 30 years ago. 1982 was Ballah.
10004:53 So what has changed?
10104:55 I don't like to bring up embarrassing secrets
10204:56 to an international audience, but I have to.
10304:59 Four months ago, we suffered a constitutional outrage in this country.
10405:02 We call it the Section 34 fiasco, the Section 34 fiasco,
10505:07 a suspicious piece of law, and I'm going to say it like it is,
10605:10 a suspicious piece of law
10705:11 was passed at a suspicious time
10805:14 to free some suspects. (Laughter)
10905:15 And it was called, those people are called
11005:22 the Piarco Airport accused.
11105:24 I'm going to have my own lexicon speaking here today.
11205:27 They are the Piarco Airport accused.
11305:28 It was a constitutional outrage of the first order,
11405:31 and I have labeled it the Plot to Pervert Parliament.
11505:35 Our highest institution in our country was perverted.
11605:38 We are dealing with perverts here
11705:40 of an economic and financial nature.
11805:42 Do you get how serious this problem is?
11905:44 There was massive protest. A lot of us in this room
12005:46 took part in the protest in different forms.
12105:49 Most importantly, the American embassy complained,
12205:52 so Parliament was swiftly reconvened,
12305:54 and the law was reversed, it was repealed.
12405:56 That's the word lawyers use. It was repealed.
12505:58 But the point is
12606:01 that Parliament was outwitted in the whole course of events,
12706:05 because what really happened is that,
12806:07 because of the suspicious passage of that law,
12906:10 the law was actually passed into effect
13006:13 on the weekend we celebrated our 50th anniversary of independence,
13106:16 our jubilee of independence.
13206:18 So that is the kind of outrage of the thing.
13306:20 It was kind of a nasty way to get maturation, but we got it,
13406:23 because we all understood it,
13506:25 and for the first time that I could remember,
13606:26 there were mass protests against this corruption.
13706:30 And that gave me a lot of hope. Okay?
13806:32 Those of us who are, sometimes you feel like
13906:34 you're a little bit on your own doing some of this work.
14006:37 That passage of the law and the repeal of the law
14106:41 fortified the case of the Piarco Airport accused.
14206:45 So it was one of those really superior double bluff kind of things that took place.
14306:49 But what were they accused of?
14406:51 What was it that they were accused of?
14506:52 I'm being a bit mysterious for those of you out there. What were they accused of?
14606:56 We were trying to build, or reconstruct largely,
14706:58 an airport that had grown outdated.
14807:01 The entire project cost about 1.6 billion dollars,
14907:05 Trinidad and Tobago dollars,
15007:07 and in fact, we had a lot of bid-rigging
15107:10 and suspicious activity, corrupt activity took place.
15207:14 And to get an idea of what it consisted of,
15307:18 and to put it in context in relationship to this whole
15407:21 second myth about it being no big thing,
15507:23 we can look at this second slide here.
15607:26 And what we have here -- I am not saying so,
15707:29 this is the Director of Public Prosecutions in a written statement. He said so.
15807:34 And he's telling us that for the $1.6 billion cost of the project,
15907:39 one billion dollars has been traced
16007:41 to offshore bank accounts.
16107:43 One billion dollars of our taxpayers' money
16207:45 has been located in offshore bank accounts.
16307:48 Being the kind of suspicious person I am,
16407:50 I am outraged at that, and I'm going to pause here,
16507:53 I'm going to pause now and again and bring in different things.
16607:56 I'm going to pause here and bring in something I saw
16707:57 in November last year at Wall Street. I was at Zuccotti Park.
16808:01 It was autumn. It was cool. It was damp. It was getting dark.
16908:05 And I was walking around with the protesters
17008:07 looking at the One Wall Street, Occupy Wall Street movement walking around.
17108:12 And there was a lady with a sign, a very simple sign,
17208:14 a kind of battered-looking blonde lady,
17308:16 and the sign was made out of Bristol board, as we say in these parts,
17408:19 and it was made with a marker.
17508:21 And what it said on that sign hit me right in the center.
17608:24 It said, "If you're not outraged, you haven't been paying attention."
17708:28 If you're not outraged by all of this, you haven't been paying attention.
17808:31 So listen up, because we're getting into even deeper waters.
17908:35 My brain started thinking.
18008:37 Well, what if --
18108:40 because I'm suspicious like that. I read a lot of spy novels and stuff.
18208:43 What if -- (Laughter)
18308:45 But to make it in these wrongs,
18408:48 you have to read a lot of spy novels
18508:49 and follow some of that stuff, right? (Laughter)
18608:52 But what if this wasn't the first time?
18708:56 What if this is just the first time
18808:59 that the so-and-sos had been caught?
18909:01 What if it had happened before? How would I find out?
19009:06 Now, the previous two examples I gave
19109:09 were to do with construction sector corruption, okay?
19209:13 And I have the privilege at this time
19309:15 to lead the Joint Consultative Council, which is a not-for-profit.
19409:18 We're at, and we have the -- we are the leaders
19509:22 in the struggle to produce a new public procurement system
19609:25 about how public money is transacted.
19709:27 So those of you interested in finding out more about it,
19809:30 or joining us or signing up on any of our petitions, please get involved.
19909:34 But I'm going to segue to another thing that relates,
20009:36 because one of my private campaigns I've been conducting
20109:39 for over three and a half years
20209:41 is for transparency and accountability
20309:44 around the bailout of CL Financial.
20409:47 CL Financial is the Caribbean's largest ever conglomerate, okay?
20509:52 And without getting into all of the details,
20609:55 it is said to have collapsed — I'm using my words very carefully —
20709:58 it's said to have collapsed in January of '09,
20810:01 which is just coming up to nearly four years.
20910:04 In an unprecedented fit of generosity --
21010:07 and you have to be very suspicious about these people --
21110:10 in an unprecedented — and I'm using that word carefully —
21210:12 unprecedented fit of generosity, the government of the day
21310:16 signed, made a written commitment, to repay all of the creditors.
21410:20 And I can tell you without fear of contradiction
21510:22 that hasn't happened anywhere else on the planet.
21610:25 Let's understand, because we lack context.
21710:27 People are telling us it's just like Wall Street. It's not just like Wall Street.
21810:30 Trinidad and Tobago is like a place with different laws of physics or biology or something.
21910:35 It's not just like anywhere. (Applause)
22010:39 It's not just like anywhere. It's not just like anywhere.
22110:44 Here is here, and out there is out there. Okay?
22210:47 I'm serious now.
22310:49 Listen. They've had bailouts on Wall Street.
22410:52 They've had bailouts in London.
22510:54 They've had bailouts in Europe.
22610:56 In Africa, they've had bailouts. In Nigeria, six of the major
22710:58 commercial banks collapsed at the same time as ours, eh?
22811:01 It's interesting to parallel how the Nigerian experience has --
22911:03 how they've treated it, and they've treated it
23011:06 very well compared to us.
23111:07 Nowhere on the planet
23211:09 have all the creditors been bailed out
23311:12 in excess of what their statutory entitlements were.
23411:14 Only here. So what was the reason for the generosity?
23511:18 Is our government that generous? And maybe they are.
23611:21 Let's look at it. Let's look into it.
23711:23 So I started digging and writing and so and so on,
23811:26 and that work can be found, my personal work
23911:27 can be found at, which is my name.
24011:31 It's a not-for-profit blog that I run.
24111:34 Not as popular as some of the other people, but there you go.
24211:36 (Laughter)
24311:38 But the point is that the bitter experience of Section 34,
24411:43 that plot to pervert Parliament, that bitter experience
24511:45 that took place in August,
24611:48 when we were supposed to be celebrating our independence,
24711:51 going into September, forced me to check myself
24811:56 and recalculate my bearings,
24911:58 and to go back into some of the work, some of the stuff I'd written
25012:00 and some of the exchanges I'd had with the officials
25112:03 to see what was really what.
25212:05 As we say in Trinidad and Tobago, who is who and what is what?
25312:09 Okay? We want to try to recalculate.
25412:10 And I made a Freedom of Information application
25512:13 in May this year to the Ministry of Finance.
25612:17 The Ministry of Finance is the next tower over.
25712:19 This is the other context.
25812:21 The Ministry of Finance, we are told,
25912:23 is subject to the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
26012:26 I'm going to take you through a worked example of whether that's really so.
26112:30 The Central Bank in which we stand this morning
26212:33 is immune from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
26312:37 So in fact, you can't ask them anything,
26412:39 and they don't have to answer anything.
26512:40 That is the law since 1999.
26612:43 So I plunged into this struggle, and I asked four questions.
26712:47 And I'll relate the questions to you in the short form with the reply,
26812:50 so you could understand, as I said, where we are.
26912:53 Here is not like anywhere else.
27012:54 Question number one:
27112:57 I asked to see the accounts of CL Financial,
27213:00 and if you can't show me the accounts --
27313:02 the Minister of Finance is making statements,
27413:04 passing new laws and giving speeches and so on.
27513:07 What are the figures he's relying on?
27613:09 It's like that joke: I want whatever he's drinking.
27713:12 And they wrote back and said to me,
27813:14 well what do you really mean?
27913:15 So they hit my question with a question.
28013:18 Second point: I want to see
28113:21 who are the creditors of the group who have been repaid?
28213:24 Let me pause here to point out to you all
28313:26 that 24 billion dollars of our money has been spent on this.
28413:30 That is about three and a half billion U.S. dollars
28513:33 coming out of a small -- we used to be resource-rich --
28613:36 Caribbean country. Okay?
28713:38 And I asked the question,
28813:40 who was getting that three and a half billion dollars?
28913:44 And I want to pause again to bring up context,
29013:46 because context helps us to get clarity understanding this thing.
29113:50 There's a particular individual who is in the government now.
29213:52 The name of the person doesn't matter.
29313:54 And that person made a career
29413:57 out of using the Freedom of Information Act
29513:59 to advance his political cause.
29614:01 Okay? His name isn't important.
29714:04 I wouldn't dignify it. I'm on a point.
29814:07 The point is, that person made a career out of using
29914:09 the Freedom of Information Act to advance his cause.
30014:12 And the most famous case
30114:14 was what we came to call the Secret Scholarship Scandal,
30214:17 where in fact there was about 60 million dollars in government money
30314:20 that had been dispersed in a series of scholarships,
30414:23 and the scholarships hadn't been advertised, and so and so on and so on.
30514:26 And he was able to get the court, using that act of Parliament,
30614:29 Freedom of Information Act,
30714:30 to release the information,
30814:32 and I thought that was excellent.
30914:36 Fantastic.
31014:39 But you see, the question is this:
31114:41 If it's right and proper for us to use the Freedom of Information Act
31214:45 and to use the court
31314:49 to force a disclosure about 60 million dollars in public money,
31414:54 it must be right and proper
31514:55 for us to force a disclosure about 24 billion dollars.
31614:59 You see? But the Ministry of Finance,
31715:02 the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance,
31815:04 wrote me and said to me, that information is exempt too.
31915:07 You see? This is what we're dealing with, okay?
32015:10 The third thing I will tell you
32115:12 is that I also asked
32215:15 for the directors of CL Financial,
32315:18 whether in fact they were making filings under our Integrity in Public Life Act.
32415:22 We have an Integrity in Public Life Act
32515:24 as part of our framework supposed to safeguard the nation's interest.
32615:28 And public officials are supposed to file
32715:31 to say what it is they have in terms of assets and liabilities.
32815:37 And of course I've since discovered that they're not filing,
32915:40 and in fact the Minister of Finance has not even asked them to file.
33015:43 So here we have it. We have a situation where
33115:47 the basic safeguards of integrity and accountability
33215:52 and transparency have all been discarded.
33315:54 I've asked the question in the legal and required fashion.
33415:57 It's been ignored.
33515:59 The sort of thing that motivated us around Section 34,
33616:02 we need to continue to work on that. We can't forget it.
33716:05 I have defined this as the single largest expenditure in the country's history.
33816:08 It's also the single largest example
33916:11 of public corruption according to this equation.
34016:16 And this is my reality check.
34116:19 Where you have an expenditure of public money
34216:21 and it is without accountability
34316:24 and it's without transparency,
34416:26 it will always be equal to corruption,
34516:28 whether you're in Russia or Nigeria or Alaska,
34616:31 it will always be equal to corruption, and that is what we are dealing with here.
34716:36 I'm going to continue the work
34816:38 to press on, to get some resolution
34916:42 of those matters at the Ministry of Finance.
35016:44 If it is I have to go to court personally, I will do that.
35116:46 We will continue to press on.
35216:48 We will continue to work within JCC.
35316:50 But I want to step back from the Trinidad and Tobago context
35416:52 and bring something new to the table
35516:54 in terms of an international example.
35616:56 We had the journalist [Heather] Brooke speaking
35716:59 about her battle against government corruption,
35817:01 and she introduced me to this website,
35917:07 And is a way for us to have an open database
36017:11 for Freedom of Information applications,
36117:14 and speak with each other.
36217:16 I could see what you're applying for.
36317:19 You could see what I applied for and what replies I got.
36417:22 We can work on it together. We need to build a collective database
36517:25 and a collective understanding of where we are to go to the next point.
36617:28 We need to increase the consciousness.
36717:30 The final thing I want to say is in relation to this one,
36817:34 which is a lovely website from India
36917:36 called
37017:38 They have international branches,
37117:40 and it's important for us to tune into this one.
37217:42 is really important,
37317:45 a good one to log on to and see.
37417:47 I'm going to pause there. I'm going to ask you for your courage.
37517:50 Discard the first myth; it is a crime.
37617:52 Discard the second myth; it is a big thing.
37717:54 It's a huge problem. It's an economic crime.
37817:57 And let us continue working together
37917:59 to betterment in this situation,
38018:01 stability and sustainability in our society. Thank you.