The Summit of Caribbean Parliamentarians
06 December 2013, 08h30 AST (GMT-4)
The Caribbean Common Market
Click logo for the CARICOM secretariat
Yesterday, I spoke at the opening ceremonies of the Summit of Caribbean Parliamentarians, in Trinidad and Tobago. My address to the parliamentarians is below.
The Summit was convened by the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC) to help legislators from across the Caribbean Common Market disrupt regional narco-terrorist networks, thwart international money laundering, and enforce the UN Convention Against Corruption.
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Your Excellencies, honourable President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives, honourable legislators, distinguished guests, colleagues, and friends:
I should like to begin by thanking each of you for doing us the honour of attending our Anti-Corruption Summit of Caribbean Parliamentarians.
Each of you has been invited to this summit because you are one of your nation’s recognised leaders, and because through your public responsibilities and personal examples, it is in your power to change your country and to change the world. We are grateful for your willingness to spend the next two days working together to change the world for the better, by combatting domestic and transnational corruption.
In addition to having an absurdly long name, the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption, or GOPAC, is a worldwide alliance of parliamentarians working together to combat corruption, strengthen good government, and uphold the rule of law. Headquartered in Canada, GOPAC has 49 national chapters spread across every inhabited region of the world.
Our members come from different cultures, speak different languages, profess different faiths, and support different political parties. And at election time, many of them work very hard to destroy one another’s political careers.
But we are united by a common conviction: that corruption is one of the greatest threats to the wellbeing of nations and to the rights of all mankind, and that it is the responsibility of parliamentarians, as the representatives and the servants of the people, to be the people’s sword and shield in the fight against corruption.
The full impact of corruption almost defies understanding.
Money laundering is now the world’s third largest industry, by total economic value.
For every dollar that the developing world receives in international aid, it loses ten dollars to corruption.
Corruption kills 140 000 children every year, by depriving them of food, water, and medical care.
Corruption is the disgrace of our age, and a rebuke to the entire human race.
But we are here today because corruption poses additional, particular challenges for the nations of the cultural and geographic Caribbean, challenges that we believe only the peoples of the Caribbean can face together and overcome together.
As a global organisation, GOPAC is conscious that every region of the world is unique. My own sense is that across the Caribbean, the struggle against corruption is a struggle in which our shared history has been both our greatest weakness and our greatest strength.
There is no denying that the legacy of colonial policies of divide and conquer, of divide and rule, is a poison that has seeped deep into each of our nations. It courses through racial and religious divisions in our societies, in social structures based on isolation and disempowerment, and ultimately, in political tactics grounded in patronage and plunder.
However, while historic colonialism may help explain modern corruption, it certainly does not excuse it, because we have a choice.
Apartheid gave us some of colonialism’s worst crimes, yet the choice of people of conscience to stand against Apartheid gave us both Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, and Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress.
We are all shaped by history, but as leaders in our respective societies, we can refuse to be prisoners of history. We can define ourselves through the choices we make today, rather than allow ourselves to be defined by the choices made by others in the distant past.
There is also no denying that the colonial inheritance of democratic institutions has been our truest guarantor of the public trust. The supremacy of parliament has given us what no other political systems in the world possess: the absolute prerogative of a vigilant, relentless, and fearless community of parliamentarians to stand between our leaders and the levers of power. The corrupt use of government authority is impossible in a parliamentary democracy, if parliamentarians collectively say “no”.
All of us are here today, because we have chosen to say no.
Throughout the next two days, our discussions will focus on developing and applying laws, regulations, and international instruments to combat money laundering and to enforce the United Nations Convention Against Corruption. We are delighted to have the assistance of some of the world’s most sought-after experts to support our discussions.
Just as importantly, however, is that we will have a chance to join hands and join forces in our shared fight against corruption, across party lines and across national boundaries.
The path is hard, the journey is long, and those who fight against us are powerful and ruthless. But all of us in GOPAC’s worldwide alliance of Parliamentarians commit to fighting with you and for you, every step of the way.