Mark Wilson #2

The writer is an international journalist based in Port of Spain

DONVILLE INNISS, Barbados’ former industry minister, was a picture of gloom in New York on Tuesday, hit by a two-year prison sentence for money laundering.

That’s a huge turnaround. When his Democratic Labour Party was in power, up to May 2018, he was touted as next prime minister. Had things run differently, we’d now be feteing him at Caricom.

He says he had “gone to the mountaintop”, but was “catapulted down into the valley with all the cuts, bruises and agony”. He says he knows how it feels to be a “convict, immigrant, black and poor”. Sorry, Donville.

After his party’s landslide 2018 election defeat, Inniss went to Florida, intending, he says, to complete a PhD and start a university career. Instead, he was arrested and charged in August 2018—days before a Democratic Labour Party (DLP) party conference which would probably have landed him a leadership role.

He was charged with laundering US$36,000 in bribes from the Bermuda-owned Insurance Company of Barbados through a friend’s US dental practice.

He has spent 32 months on bail. He was convicted in January last year, but is still at liberty pending appeal. He says he did no wrong.

Barbados ranks 29th-cleanest of 180 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Index. That’s the Caribbean’s best ranking. T&T weighs in at 86th. The US is 25th; and Britain, 11th.

It’s telling that Inniss was prosecuted in the US, not on his home turf.

The US prosecution made use of the Barbadian colonial-era Prevention of Corruption Act, passed in 1929. There have been no previous convictions under that act. The DLP’s general secretary Guyson Mayers said last year that Inniss would never have been found guilty in a Barbadian court.

Barbados attorney-general Dale Marshall said after his party’s 2018 landslide and Inniss’s arrest: “We are now into our third month of Government, and daily... we are uncovering instances where decisions were made... which defy common sense and can point us to only one possible conclusion: that personal gain was involved.” But we have not yet seen any further high-profile prosecutions.

Updating the anti-corruption regime has been on the Barbados government’s do-list for years. Legislation establishing an Anti-Corruption and Anti-Terrorism Agency was passed last month. So... watch this space?

As a minister, Inniss was responsible for international business—aka, the offshore financial sector. He was answerable for keeping it free from fraud and money laundering. Which, in retrospect, is more than worrying.

Caribbean governance is responsible for the clean running of a big slice of the world’s finances.

Let’s take the Cayman Islands. With a population of 66,000—a little more than Tobago’s. They host and regulate international banks with around US$660 billion in assets, more than one third of Canada’s GDP. That’s before we add in all the hedge funds and other investment assets.

So are their governance standards up there with Canada’s? Maybe not.

The Cayman Islands held an election two weeks ago. With Covid-19 raging and St Vincent’s Soufrière erupting, it somehow escaped the news agenda.

The election was held six weeks early, to forestall a threatened no-confidence motion in the outgoing Speaker, McKeeva Bush. He had been handed a two-month suspended prison sentence before Christmas for a hair-pulling, face-punching drunken assault on a female bar manager in February 2020, and slapped with a US$840 fine, more than US$5,000 in victim compensation and a two-month, six-to-six night-time curfew.

He has been an elected representative since 1984. He has been Premier, Speaker, opposition leader. He loves to sing Bob Marley’s “Lion of Judah”.

He won his seat back, by a 27-vote margin.

The governing Progressive group took seven of the 19 seats. The rest went to a mixed bag of assorted independents.

There followed a week of madcap wrangling and horse-trading. The Progressives faced a PACT coalition, which claimed to be People-driven, Accountable, Competent and Transparent.

First the Progressives claimed the lead, then PACT, then it was back to the Progressives. A nine-nine stalemate followed. Talks to agree to a broad coalition broke down after 15 minutes.

Then PACT leader Wayne Panton won support from McKeeva Bush. Bush apologised (belatedly) for his February 2020 assault, and offered ten per cent of his salary to a women’s shelter—who naturally turned down the offer. No matter. A couple of Progressives peeled off to join the winning side. Panton was sworn in as premier on April 21.

And McKeeva Bush is back as speaker.

Before the election, journalists asked several candidates if they would work with McKeeva Bush. The new premier, Wayne Panton, said “preferably not”. The new deputy premier Chris Saunders said “absolutely no”. The new home affairs minister Bernie Bush said “I wouldn’t do it”.

So these folks are responsible for keeping the world’s offshore cash clear of financial fraud and money laundering sharks. Nice.

But relax. There’s a regulatory fallback. Final control of the Cayman offshore sector lies with Britain. Whose Electoral Commission said on Wednesday that there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect prime minister Boris Johnson of breaking the rules to finance a $500,000 renovation of his London living quarters.

Donville, McKeeva, Boris... who’s in the game? Who’s out?

• Mark Wilson is an international

journalist based in Port of Spain

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