corruption in the Commonwealth Caribbean


This work examines the state of the scholarship on corruption in the Commonwealth Caribbean and notes that there is a longstanding interest in the region with corruption. The weaknesses in the methodologies of Transparency International Corruption Perception Indexes (CPIs) are identified, and author points out the tendency in Caribbean Scholarship to reproduce those weaknesses in local studies without revalidating or recalibrating the research instruments. The work concludes that the existing scholarship does not provide Commonwealth Caribbean public management practitioners with the information and understanding necessary to deliver quality public services in an environment free from corruption.

Corruption in the Commonwealth Caribbean 3

Known Knowns: Corruption in the Commonwealth Caribbean

What do we really know of the state of corruption in the Commonwealth Caribbean? This issue dominates the popular media as well as everyday discussion, but public management scholars and practitioners have not seriously nor have they effectively addressed the question. Yet we all concede that our capacity to deliver quality public service will materially depend on our capacity to eliminate corruption from public service delivery. In his review of public administration in the English speaking Caribbean almost 20 years ago, Mills (1990, p. 345) described 'the significant increased in the incidence of unethical conduct and political and bureaucratic corruption' as a subject of 'considerable concern'. He attributes this increase in part, at least in the case of Jamaica, to the highly competitive two-party political system. The issue of corruption has certainly become one of the principal contested issues in Commonwealth Caribbean elections, and it is plausible that there is a causal connection between allegations of corruption against a government and its subsequent performance at the polls. Certainly, very few Commonwealth Caribbean governments have gone to elections in recent years and have not had to defend their records on combating corruption, and few governments have come into power and have not indicated early that tackling corruption will be high on their agenda. On a change of government, an anticorruption housecleaning is generally expected even if it is not always forthcoming. In addition, concerns with corruption also define the economic landscape. Institutional failures in the private sector, the development of Ponzi schemes, and other fraudulent investment operations are often attributed to both corrupt practices and weak governance, and these place greater demand on governments in their roles as regulators to establish structures and regimes that will provide for better oversight. However, even against this background, can we simply attribute the level of corruption in Caribbean societies to the highly developed state of political competition? If not, have our public management scholars and practitioners identified better explanations for the allegations of corruption that what now plague Commonwealth Caribbean public management?

Increasingly, grantors of international aid focus on governance issues including especially the capacity of the state to combat corrupt practices. In their various international postures, Commonwealth Caribbean states are increasingly signing on to new anticorruption programmes, such as those promoted by the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption. Most importantly, Commonwealth Caribbean peoples have put the anticorruption question on the international as well as national agendas. Notwithstanding the overwhelming interest in the subject, the pool of relevant Commonwealth Caribbean scholarship is very shallow. There is therefore need for further research on the subject that generate new information and a new understanding of the circumstances of corruption, especially in the public service. In the meantime, it is necessary to extrapolate from extra-regional literature to achieve a better understanding of the Commonwealth Caribbean situation.

Methodologies of Real-World Studies

It is a matter of genuine concern as to how infrequently Commonwealth Caribbean countries are represented in existing corruptions studies. It is a matter of even greater concern that the mythologies applied by the studies are so suspect as to provide little understanding of the problem. Genuine perception indices can be valid and reliable scientific instruments, if they are suitably developed. However, the reliability and validity of research instruments used to elicit any corruption data are of critical concern, and there is much dissatisfaction with the current state of the studies (Lambsdorff, 2006; Galtung, 2006; Miller, 2006). A technique is reliable when it is applied repeatedly to the same object and each time yields the same results (Nunnally, 2001; Leedy & Ormrod, 2001). On the other hand, validity describes how effectively a measure reflects the concept that it is intended to measure (Babbie, 1998; Hair, et al. 1998). In other words, validity is concerned with how well the concept is defined by the measures. It is not sufficient that the instrument is completely reliable if it is not also valid to measure the concepts of the study.

There are several ways of describing the validity of an instrument. These include face, content, convergent, discriminant, and criterion-related validity. Face validity in relation to an instrument, describes where a measure, on 'its face', appears to be a good reflection of the constructs (Kaplan & Sacuzzo, 1993). Thus, the Transparency International Corruption Perception Indices (CPI) may appear to have face validity. Content validly, on the other hand, describes the degree to which the instrument provides an adequate representation of the concepts (Sureschchandar, Chandrasekharan, & Anantharanman, 2002). In this area, the Transparency International CPI fails as a valid instrument for measuring corruption. To be fair, Transparency International does not assert that its instrument is strictly a measure of corruption, but merely the perception of it. However, it encourages the proposition that if corruption is perceived, then corruption exists to the extent that it is perceived. Even from this limited perspective, the Transparency International CPI also fails as a valid instrument for measuring the perception of corruption. In the Transparency International CPI method, what often passes for perception analysis (the subject's belief that there is corruption) may be derived not from the subject's actual perception of the object (corruption), but rather the subject's perception of other subjects. Galtung (2006) and Miller (2006) have both criticised corruption perception studies. Miller said, 'Images or perceptions of corruption are interesting in themselves and also because they may have consequences for compliance, for civil order and for foreign investment. But, they are not an accurate measure of corrupt behaviour' (Miller 2006, p. 183). Galtung's criticism is even more significant, considering that he was one of the developers of the Transparency International CPI. Transparency International's approach serves the admitted anticorruption advocacy function of the organization, but it does not represent good scholarship. Moreover, the Transparency International indices have an even more unfortunate effect because governments and aid agencies have come to rely on them.

It is difficult to measure corruption and, at face value, a perception index appears to be a useful instrument. Unfortunately, very often, what is being measured is not perception at all but belief or opinion, which can be based on perceptions but are sometimes based on other influential factors. Transparency International CPIs and their derivatives often do not involve a subject to object relationship. Studies based on that methodology do not ascertain what the subject has seen, heard, or have become aware through their senses of the object under investigation. Rather, the subjects are asked to give their beliefs and these are taken as indicative of characteristics of the objects. These corruption perception studies sometimes examine a subject-to-subject relationship, but the information gathered from such enquiry is then used to define the character of the object. This approach may be contrasted with Transparency International's own Bribe Payers Index, which applies a subject to object methodology. In other words, in the case of the Bribe Payers Index respondents are asked to respond based on their experiences with the object. The latter instrument generates a more accurate assessment of bribe paying than what the CPI generates for corruption, but the Bribe Payers Index is not popular and hardly used.

Like face validity, content validity is based on evidence with is subjective and logical rather than statistical; and if the analysis of the subject is not sufficiently rich or rigorous, atrocious associations can easily be made (Kaplan & Sacuzzo, 1993; Sureschchandar, Chandrasekharan & Anantharanman, 2002). Where the items in an instrument are substantiated by a comprehensive review of the literature, one can have some confidence as to its content validity (Bohrnstedt, 1983). Unfortunately, the converse can also be true: Where the literature reproduces the methodology without analysis, as happens for the Transparency International CPI, a defective instrument or methodology can come to assume the validity it does not deserve.

Convergent validity refers to the extent to which different approaches to the measurement of a construct is statistically similar to other theoretically similar approaches, so that high correlation means high convergent validity. However, recent studies cast doubt on the convergent validity of the Transparency International CPIs (Galtung, 2006; Knack, 2006). On the other hand, discriminant validity describes when a measure diverges from other measures when there should be no correlation between the measures. Criterion-related validity checks the performance of the measure against some other criterion. Convergent, discriminant, and Criterion-related validity are base on more objective analysis. Where one's methodologies do not reproduce comparable results to other methodologies measuring the same thing, then it is an indication that one, or other, or both of the methodologies may not be correct (Hair, et al. 1998). These types of instrument validity analyses are often missing from corruption measurement studies.

Several reliable and valid research instruments have been developed to measure the perception of other intangibles, such as the measurement of public service quality for example (McKoy, 2006). One would argue that the perception of service quality is as intangible as the perception of corruption and therefore should be no easier to measure. Such research instruments, which have been developed to measure service quality, are usually based on the disconfirmation paradigm, where the subject is ether confirmed or disconfirmed in his expectation or perception of customer service (Oliver, 1980). Those instruments were first developed and refined as conceptual models (Parasuraman, Berry & Zeithaml, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994). Over time, the reliability and validity of the instruments were tested and retested in replication studies (Durvasula, Lysonski & Mehta, 1999; Babakus & Boller, 1992; Cronin & Taylor 1992, 1994; McKoy, 2006). The debate on the utility or suitability of those instruments is quite rich. Unfortunately, similar reliability and validity debates are generally missing from the corruption perception studies. Moreover, even when the reliability or validity of the corruption perception index are discussed, such discussions are often self-serving. For example, Transparency International speaks about the reliability of its own methodology in these terms'The overall reliability of data is demonstrated in the high correlation between sources. In this regard, Pearson's and Kendall's rank correlations have been performed, which provided average results of .81 and .67 respectively' (Transparency International 2004). Precisely what data was found to be reliable were not identified in the methodological note. In addition, the validity of its instruments was assumed without debate. Knack (2006) have been particularly critical of the corruption perceptions methodology.

Scholars, examining the issues Public service management and corruption, sometimes adopt the analytic and evaluative methodology (Branon & Fauvre, 2002; Buscaglia & Dakolias, 1999a; Buscaglia, 1997, 1999; Keyuan, 2000; Letsika, 2004; Moody-Stuart, 1997; Zagaris & Ohri, 1999). By analytic is meant that the studies seek to identify the elements and complexities of the whole issue; and by evaluative, one means that the studies set out to judge the adequacy of the ideas, concepts, and solutions (Barnet & Bedau, 2005). One agrees that a mere descriptive analysis of corruption is unsuitable, but on the other hand no single methodology is necessarily best suited to the study of this nature. It may be that part of the weaknesses of existing research on corruption is that there is a tendency to rely on single disciplines, whereas a study of corruption of necessity is better served by a multidisciplinary approach. A similar argument should be made of the methodological approaches. Appropriate methodologies should include economic analysis, behavioural investigation, and the comparative method; and each methodology, in the appropriate circumstances, has its place. For example, in his study of corruption of the judiciary in developing countries, Buscaglia (1999) advances an elaborate sequencing and design for the implementation of anticorruption policies. He argues that this approach '... has been applied at the judicial and municipal levels in many countries with significant results.' The Buscaglia design includes, first, a country diagnostic analysis, identifying and prioritising the institutions and areas where systemic corruption arises. For the purposes of his study, Buscaglia defined a systemically corrupt organization or institution as one that cannot function as a supplier of a good or service. Without taking issue at this stage with this definition, it is important to note that his diagnostic analysis involves surveying the actual users of government services at the several governmental institutions. In effect, Buscaglia's approach sought to assess the actual client experience of public services, not just the perception of it. Other methods may also be appropriate. Zimring and Johnson (2005), and Buscaglia and Dakolias (1999b), have demonstrated the utility of the comparative method to corruption studies.

Commonwealth Caribbean Literature

Commonwealth Caribbean countries have not featured significantly in the academic literature on corruption. Nevertheless, there have been some attempts at quantitative studies of corruption in the region. Two such recent quantitative studies are those by Powell, Bourne and Waller (2007) and Waller, Minto, Rapley and Bourne (2007). Both studies applied the corruption perception methodology popularised by Transparency International. In neither case were the results surprising, and in both cases the methodologies remain suspect. The Transparency International CPIs have had an unfortunate influence on scholarship since their inception (Knack 2006; Galtung 2006). All the weaknesses of the Transparency International approach were reproduced in the local studies. In the Powell, Bourne, and Waller's study, for example, the 'perception of corruption' questions included, 'How much time do you think will be needed to eliminate corruption in Jamaica?' The possible responses on the survey were: 1-5 years, 5-10 years, 10-20 years, more than 20 years, never, and don't know/no answer. The subjects' belief of the object was taken as a measure of their perception of the object, although we do not know from the study what informed that belief. Worse, the perception of corruption, even assuming that it was correctly measured, is taken as a measure of actual corruption. With the greatest respect, while such studies encourage expansive statements on the state of corruption, they do not really tell us anything scientific about corruption.

Recent legislative initiatives especially those on transparency in government and the introduction of the obligation on public officials to declare their assets, have received some favourable comment but not serious analysis (Carter, 2002). We do not yet know what impact, if any, these have had on suppressing corruption. There have been several government reports on maladministration in the region (Bahamas, 1976; Barbados, 1978 and 2004; Grenada, 1961; and Jamaica, 1973). Although these might have been seminal in their time, they are now much too dated to be useful. Harriott's (2000) study of the police in Jamaica is more current, insightful and relevant to the contemporary problem of corruption, but it too is limited by its narrow focus on the Jamaican police.

Most Caribbean commentary on corruption are based on personal impression, anecdotes, and cross-country correlations. Williams (2006) assert that of all the research methods, the first two are among the least systematic; but even cross-national statistic correlations of corruption related indices often amount to nothing more than the equivalence of comparing apples to oranges. At the end of the day, we are left with no good understanding of corruption. Even the best-known Caribbean scholars still speak from the anecdotal or theoretical perspectives. Trevor Munro is an authentic Caribbean voice, although he speaks mostly from the Jamaican experience and mostly to Jamaican concerns. Most of his work is theoretically focussed, drawing up on constructs developed by other scholars and applying them to the Caribbean experiences in general and to those of Jamaica in particular. For over four decades, Munroe has been one of Jamaica's leading political commentators. His views on the political structure of Jamaica are important. Most significantly, from the perspective of corruption studies, Monroe recognizes that the success of the pro-transparency and anti-corruption initiatives depend also on the transformation and strengthening of government institutions. He characterizes public dissatisfaction with the Jamaican government as a 'continuing crisis' (Munroe 2002, p. 13). Munroe has a remarkably positive view of governance in contemporary Jamaica, even against the preponderance of the evidence. He acknowledges, however, that the instutions of Jamaican democratic governance are gradually weakening, and this decline has been noted elsewhere (Munroe 2000). It is interesting that Munroe believes that the decline in governance began in the 1990s, whereas Mills attributes the breakdown to the 1970s. In both cases, however, these scholars seem to agree that the high levels of political competition in Jamaica promote corruption. Notwithstanding his generally positive outlook, Monroe cannot deny that the government bureaucracy has been unable to address so significant problems, including problems of weak institutional governance, corruption, and breaches of the rule of law.

Too often, the tendency in public discussions of corruption in the Commonwealth Caribbean is to draw up on the experiences of other counties as if these are always applicable to the local circumstances, and many issues peculiar to the local circumstances have not been adequately addressed in the Commonwealth Caribbean literature. The most important missing item is a reliable instrument or procedure for measuring corruption. The assessment of existing bureaucracies is also weak. While it is obvious that the new reforms will bring governance issues to the front, it is hardly addressed in a conceptual way. It is therefore not surprising that public bureaucrats are consistently surprised by breakdowns in the governance of public structures. Although the literature from outside the region sometimes addresses the need to for governments to refine their approaches to the anticorruption project, that concern has only recently provoked the Commonwealth Caribbean political leaders; and that approach seems hardly to have provoked Caribbean scholars at all. The main themes that emerge from the Caribbean studies are that corruption is debilitating, that it is difficult to manage, and that it seems to have the most deleterious effect on developing economies. Other than that, there is no universal theme emerging from the scholarship. Scholars and practitioners have identified different problems with corruption and have proffered different solutions, and it remains to be determined what approach best suits the circumstances of the Commonwealth Caribbean.


As poorly served as we are by Caribbean scholarship, pubic managers must still navigate a future course to avoid the pitfalls of corruption in public service. It is generally agreed that public sector corruption misapplies the resources of government, discourages investment in the economy, fosters a culture of crime, and increases poverty while at the same time depriving the needy of necessary government benefits (Potts 1998; Barbados 2004). Although those views represent the established orthodoxy regarding developing countries, we have now discovered that democratic governments in developed countries have also supported policies of bribery and corruption where the negative effects are felt overseas, usually in developing countries, while the positive effects, such as increased employment, economic development and trade, are experienced locally (Grey, 1976). Such activities were justified on the basis of national interest (UK Government, 1977). As early as 1976, government officials in the UK were concerned that the UK was unique among developing counties in its support for overseas bribes, which were then euphemistically described as 'special commissions' (Grey, 1976). As laudable as the concerns were, they were misplacedthe UK was not at that time unique among other European counties in officially supporting bribery abroad. Although the UK supported overseas bribery through its foreign exchange control mechanisms, other European counties supported overseas corruption by granting tax credits for bribes paid in foreign counties. It was not for another 20 years before the OECD finally turned its face against tax credits for overseas bribery (OECD, 1996; 1999).

Over the last two or three decades concerns in developing counties with corruption prevention in public services entities have evolved from merely focussing on individuals inducing public officials to abuse their offices to the belief that organized crime, and drug traffickers and money launders in particular, were putting public service management under threat. The political consequences of public sector corruption are no less significant than the economic and social implications. It is becoming increasingly apparent that corruption, and allegations of corruption, destroy the confidence of people in their government and deny democratic institutions the public support on which they depend (Potts 1998; Zagaris & Ohri, 1999; Buscaglia & Dakolias, 1999b). Such views of corruption are not peculiar to developing countries, even if some scholars speak as if developed counties should have higher expectations of their public office holders (Doig, 2003).

Commonwealth Caribbean governments are plagued by allegations of corruption and impropriety in contemporary public sector management. Government corruption, improper award and management of public sector contracts, and the allocation of public benefits along partisan political lines have been documented (Munroe, 2002). Allegations of corruption have been made against political parties, government officials, members of the police forces, as well as private sector and trade union functionaries. Prosecutions of public officials for corruption are infrequent, and rarely successful (Barbados, 2004; Munroe, 2002). From one perspective, the very existence of the state as a functional democracy is dependent on its capacity to address the corruption issue (Harriott, 2000; Munroe, 1999). People lose faith in the institutions of law when they believe that those institutions unfairly protect some members of the society to the disadvantage of others. Many believe that the modern Commonwealth Caribbean state is easy on corruption but hard on violent crimes especially when the offenders are from the lower economic strata of society. This was the opinion was expressed to the Barbados National Commission on Law and Order:

Similar views are expressed about laws to facilitate aggressive law enforcement against citizens from the lower socioeconomic group, but there is no comparable commitment to bring to justice the more privileged who are involved in corruption and corporate and white collar crimes. (Barbados, 2004)

In the international arena, perceptions of Commonwealth Caribbean corruption are no more favourable. Over the last several years, Transparency International corruption perception indices have consistently placed many Commonwealth Caribbean countries low on the corruption perceptions scales (Transparency International, 2006; 2007; 2008). Dissatisfaction with the current state of affairs accounts in part for the several initiatives in the region to introduce new legislative measures with more severe penalties for corrupt activity. These concerns with corruption may also account for the aggressive posture Commonwealth Caribbean States have taken on the subject in various inter-American forums.

Two important trends are evident in contemporary public administration. The first is the rethinking of public sector management philosophies and public service delivery (Davis, 1999). That public sector agencies must develop rules of governance requiring appropriate ethical behaviour is a significant theme of this trend. A second trend is the promotion of rigorous anticorruption regimes. A whole raft of scholarship from outside the regions can be offered in support of this, including Asian Development Bank (2004), Balia (1999), Berkman (1976), Gould and Amaro-Reyes (1983), Haruna (2003), Mutonyi (2003), Nkole (1987), Rose-Ackerman (1999), and Wraith and Simpkins (1963).

Whereas there are obvious advantages in initiating and pursuing a public sector ethics project, there are also social and administrative costs with implementing such projects. The intuition is that the advantages of a highly ethical public service outweighs and justifies the costs of implementing it. However, little empirical cost-benefit analysis exists to justify the ethics project in the public service and no work had been done to support preference for one approach to public sector ethics over another (Buscalia, 1999). Certainly, at this time there is no empirical evidence that the Inter-American Treaty and its consequential legislation have reduced corruption. Indeed, the treaty's full implication for the Commonwealth Caribbean is still to be assessed.

The assessment of the new anticorruption measures is problematic as there is no consensus among researchers, even when they come together, as to what should be measured, or what research instrument should be used (Sampford, Preston & Bois, 1998). Transparency International's CPIs was once considered a useful tool, but today its use is highly suspect and arguably discredited. In addition, an attitude of self-righteousness characterises the leadership of some anticorruption projects. One may even call some approaches a crusade. Some of the initiatives are draconian and may even do more violence than good to the ethics project. The concept of illicit enrichment introduced into the legal systems of the Commonwealth Caribbean may be an example of this. The overall concern must be whether the new initiatives are more detrimental than good to the overall public sector anticorruption project, and what criteria do we use to judge these initiatives.


The former United States of America Secretary of Defence, Donald Henry, introduced into popular discussion a concept long familiar to project managers. The Secretary of state is reported to have said, 'There are known knowns ... There are known unknowns ... But there are also unknown unknowns.' In effect, he was saying that in relation to an object, a subject's knowledge can be certain, uncertain or unaware. Public management practitioners' 'known knowns' on corruption depend in large part on the work of public management scholars and what their researches have discovered. Regrettably, Commonwealth Caribbean scholars have not discovered a lot that is useful to the public management practitioner. We still cannot say definitively how pervasive corruption is in the region. Our scholars persist in relying on external definitions that are ill advised and grounded on suspect research methodologies. When they turn their attention to the empirical research of corruption, rather than revalidate and recalibrate the suspect research instruments, they simply reproduce them; otherwise, our scholars content ourselves with anecdotal assessments. What do we know of corruption in the region? We certainly know that we are not well served by our scholarship.


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