Malaysia are many thousands of miles away but share many similarities with Trinidad and Tobago. They beat us to independent status by five years, adopted the Westminster system of governance and enjoyed key financial growth through industrialisation.
They are divided along ethnic lines and as such practice race-based politics. They undertook a Vision 2020 programme towards developed nation standing and have been governed, until two years ago, by one main political party.
Malaysia also share another social characteristic with T&T: corruption.
Indeed, the two countries enjoy similar positions on global corruption indices, with limited transparency, uncapped donations to political parties (with no legal requirement to report the amounts or their source) and questionable practices by individuals moving between the public and private sector.
Their absence of accountability—and therefore a lack of prosecution amongst their so-called elite—means that, the drug trade aside, T&T and Malaysia could easily be supplanted for one another.
But this week, shockwaves rippled through the Malaysian society as its former prime minister Najib Razak was sentenced to 12 years in prison for abuse of power and corrupt multi-million dollar deals that involved raiding sovereign wealth funds derived from state earnings.
The rich and powerful were thought to be untouchable across Malaysia—certainly no one in the upper echelons of society ever faced sentencing. Sound familiar?
Once accusations of impropriety in office surfaced, the party that ruled for 61 years was voted out. But it didn’t end there. The matter was pursued until it resulted in the first criminal conviction of a senior political figure in the country’s history.
It is a sliding doors moment for Malaysia—that moment or occurrence that changes one’s trajectory and alters the future.
Whether it leads to a slew of other convictions remains to be seen but the importance of a single example of white collar accountability for a nation steeped in decades old corruption cannot be understated.
Here in T&T, in the midst of the election silly season, we can only wonder if something similar would ever rock our own society.
What is it that maintains the status quo and provides that the uneasy balance which discourages newly elected parties from holding the other accountable for its misdeeds? Local jargon refers to ‘cocoa in the sun’.
Corruption has mushroomed to the point that our political parties no longer deny its mass existence across every sector of society. Yet all we are get is the odd high profile arrest to appease the public which is quickly tied up in litigation and never sees the light of day.
To ‘go after’ corruption should mean seeing it through to prosecution. The cocoa is forever ripening but never harvested.
Corruption is so embedded in our culture that the post-Independence generations cannot point to a single example of the prosecution of a white collar criminal of any stature.
This week, we recognised the 30th anniversary of our greatest example of unaccountability in Trinidad and Tobago: the 1990 coup.
As they seek your vote, which one of the myriad of political parties—and there are quite a few initials and acronyms clambering for your inked finger—will prosecute those that have raided and robbed. Is such a thing even on their radar?
It’s a bolder world, as evidenced by the happenings in Malaysia, the Arab Spring and the Black Lives Matter movement. Change is necessary and the one way to address our corruptive ways is to start with a single example.
Which one of the parties is willing to give T&T its sliding doors moment? Which one can prove that by its readiness to truly go after corruption, it has no preference for cocoa?