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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Barbados a leader in rule of law


TONY BEST

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Barbados a leader in rule of law

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An example of mixed blessings? Probably. Except for the Golden Jubilee independence celebrations, the Jason Holder-led West Indies team’s victory over Pakistan in the third Test and a Barbados Central Bank forecast that the economy is on course to grow by slightly less than two per cent this year, good news has been in relative short supply.

Water woes in different parts of the country, fears of a devaluation, potholes in the streets, threats of industrial action and a pile-up of garbage are but a handful of the headaches with which Bajans must contend  their country celebrates its 50th anniversary.

But positive news came from some unexpected sources: the World Justice Project, the Centre for Freedom and Prosperity, and Dr Dan Mitchell, a prominent conservative American economist who is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington.

What they have concluded is that when it comes to the rule of law, Barbados and several of its Caribbean neighbours have earned prominent places on a global index that measures how 113 countries demonstrate their commitment.

“Several jurisdictions in the Caribbean, Barbados being one of them, have earned high rankings on the rule of law index,” said Mitchell, whose work has appeared in many of America’s leading news publications and journals.

“Not all of the Caribbean countries have done well. One of the things you find, especially among jurisdictions that are considered ‘tax havens’, is that they have very good rule of law system and Barbados is on that list.”

Barbados earned a ranking of 28 and Mitchell, who has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Forbes, Investor’s Business Daily, Offshore Investment, Villanova Law Review and Emory Law Journal, said the good performances by Barbados and some in the region shouldn’t come as a surprise.

“Why do these countries have a very good system of rule of law? When you are competing internationally for financial services, you better have a system of government that investors can trust.”

“You can ask the question: why is Haiti not a tax haven?  People just don’t trust the government of Haiti. In Haiti, the courts are corrupt and the government is not honest. On the other hand, they do trust the Cayman Islands and they do trust Barbados, for instance. To the extent that a country wants to compete globally for services you must have an honest government.

“If you look at the World Bank’s governance indicators, you find the same thing,” Mitchell added. “You will find very good scores in the so-called ‘tax havens.’ Realistically, we shouldn’t be referring to these countries as ‘tax havens.’ We should be talking about the jurisdictions that compete in the international financial sphere.

“Places like Barbados and others get good scores precisely because they are competing and they know it is important that if you are going to be successful you must have a government that is reasonably honest.”

Barbados isn’t the only Caribbean state on the list of the 30 best performing countries. Antigua & Barbuda and St Kitts-Nevis round off the top tier. Grenada was 31st; St Lucia 36th; St Vincent & The Grenadines 37th; The Bahamas 38th; Dominica 40th; Jamaica 37th; and Trinidad and Tobago 48th. Much lower down the rankings were Suriname 59th Panama 62nd; and Guyana 76th.

The most trustworthy states can be found in Europe and North America. They were led by Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands,  Germany, Austria, New Zealand, Singapore, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada and Belgium, in that order.

Further down are the United States, which was in the 18th spot, South Korea, Uruguay, France, Poland, Spain and Costa Rica. On the other side of ledger were Venezuela,  Cambodia,  Afghanistan, Egypt, Cameroon, Zimbabwe Ethiopia, Pakistan, Uganda, Bolivia, Bangladesh and Honduras.

The index examined such key factors as constraints on government power; order and security, civil and criminal justice, absence of corruption, the regulatory framework and open government.

“The index is the world’s most comprehensive data set of its kind and the only (one) to rely solely on primary data, measuring a nation’s adherence to the rule of law from the perspective of how ordinary people experience it,” explained the World Justice Project.

“These features make the index a powerful tool that can help identify strengths and weaknesses in each country, and help to inform policy debates, both within and cross countries that advance the rule of law.”

With a score of 0. 67 of a possible “1,” Barbados was ranked above Italy, Greece,  South Africa,  United Arab Emirates, Hungary,  China,  Belize,  the Dominican Republic, Argentina, Kenya, and Peru, among others.

We learn from the index that Barbados and four of its English-speaking neighbours – Antigua, St Kitts-Nevis, The Bahamas and Trinidad and Tobago – are in “high income” bracket; that the US, which crowned itself as the world leader when it comes to the rule of law, is anything but that. It also showed that CARICOM as a group outperforms most of Eastern Europe, all of sub-Sahara Africa and a majority of the Middle East and the Pacific.

However, the results of rating exercise raise a perplexing question: if Barbados is so highly placed, how come the Caribbean Court of Justice routinely complains about the lengthy delays in getting decisions from its courts?

After all, the legal maxim that justice delayed is justice denied as contained in the Magna Carta of 1215, “to no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice”. In a 1963 letter written by the late Dr Martin Luther King Jr. when he was in a Birmingham Alabama jail – “justice too long delayed is justice denied” rings in our ears.

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