The Law Firm of Piacentile, Stefanowski & Malherbe LLP

Corruption in Caribbean Countries and Territories

For decades, the Caribbean has been a hot spot for corruption. From politicians and government officials skimming money off public projects, to drug cartels using the islands as their home base, corruption runs rampant throughout the region. In fact, several Caribbean countries and territories rank in the top 20% of the world for the highest rates of corruption. And while it may be easy to ignore what's going on 'over there, the effects of corruption can be felt all over the world. The need for better governance has been a major concern in the Caribbean for decades.

The region is hardly unique in dealing with such challenges. Caribbean governments are finding themselves increasingly brought into a broader international system of governance accountability. While some perceive this as external interference, the creation of such global accountability regimes generally leads to positive changes. According to the World Economic Forum, the global cost of corruption in 2018 was estimated to be about $2.6 trillion. Although the Caribbean does not have the same litany of massive multi-billion dollar scandals as other jurisdictions like the United States or the UK, corruption is a big problem.

In a recent survey about corruption in Latin America and the Caribbean, Transparency International’s main findings were: (i) corruption is on the rise; (ii) governments are not doing enough; (iii) presidents, prime ministers, and parliamentarians are seen as the most corrupt; (iv) bribery is a regular concurrence for many; (v) sexual extortion is a major issue (vi) political integrity is lacking, especial around elections; and (vii) despite fears of retaliation, citizens can make a difference. The countries in the survey representing the Caribbean included the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Guyana, and Jamaica.

The 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index ("CPI") researched by the same organization that provided the survey mentioned above, releases the list of the most corrupted countries in the region. This index is the most widely used global corruption ranking in the world. It measures how corrupt each country’s public sector is perceived to be, according to experts and businesspeople.

According to Transparency International, the most corrupt Caribbean countries in 2021 were:

  • Haiti

  • Dominican Republic

  • Suriname

  • Guyana

  • Trinidad and Tobago

  • Jamaica

  • Cuba

It is worth mentioning that, in the Caribbean, corruption is often in the eye of the beholder. Local practices may be perceived as normal, yet from the outside, can be seen as a form of corruption. For example, hiring family members in public organizations, or favoring certain companies for government contracts run by family members and friends, may not seem as bad to some Caribbean denizens as it would to Westerners. Other forms of corruption tend to be more readily perceived as bad, like the large-scale embezzlement of public funds, money laundering, the removal of honest public officials for malicious purposes, or public officials taking large bribes.

When we talk about the most notorious large-scale scandals in the Caribbean, we have to remember a roster of scandals that were uncovered within the Petrocaribe alliance. This group was created in 2005 by Venezuela with a stated mission to help overcome poverty in the Caribbean. In Haiti, funds worth some $3.8 billion derived from Venezuela’s oil loans were allegedly embezzled or stolen through multiple schemes, including nonexistent infrastructure projects and fraudulent oil invoices in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake that devasted Haiti. A consortium of multimedia journalists led by Connectas, a human rights NGO, reviewed 234 projects developed as part of Petrocaribe. The investigation resulted in uncovering overpriced contracts, abandoned infrastructure projects, and offshore deposits to personal accounts. It was in Haiti where a significant percentage of this wrongdoing happened, perpetrated by corrupt governments and unscrupulous businesspeople against a struggling Haiti.

Another sprawling corruption scandal has roots in the Dominican Republic. A Brazilian company behind the operation placed its international “bribery bureau” in the Dominican Republic and shoveled out nearly $100 million in bribes to local officials. In this scheme, the Brazilian construction company won 17 contracts to build highways, dams, and a big coal-burning power plant. The Dominican authorities 2017 reached an agreement with Odebrecht in which the company paid a $184 million fine in exchange for providing information about its Dominican operations.

It is known that when it comes to whistleblower protections, Latin America and the Caribbean are lagging behind the rest of the world. While some countries like Peru, Jamaica, and Chile have recently made some legal advances, these are weak and largely ineffective whistleblower protection laws.

Whistleblowers reporting the illegal and immoral activities of public and private organizations is the most effective way to expose, fight and remedy corruption. Whether whistleblowers are government accountants who report on the misspending of public money or scientists who expose the payment of bribes to cover the release of toxic waste, whistleblowers are essential for revealing wrongdoings and protecting the public interest.

The Caribbean is not alone in its fight against corruption. However, the region has a unique opportunity to set an example for the world by promoting transparency and accountability through the actions of whistleblowers and law firms that represent them. As we have seen, when these entities work together towards a common goal of justice, real change can happen. If you are considering becoming a whistleblower or know someone who is, please do not hesitate to contact Whistleblowers International for a free and confidential consultation. Our whistleblower attorneys would be honored to represent you.