How much does an inquiry cost?

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Prime Minister Gaston Browne has stated quite clearly that he will not spend taxpayers’ money to launch an independent public inquiry into the Odebrecht scandal and the possible involvement of local officials in an attempt to stymie the wheels of justice.
You would remember that late last year, the story, which had been lingering in the international press for months, broke locally in a big way. In a case which went before the US District Court in the Eastern District of New York, the defendant – Odebrecht – was accused of violating the anti-bribery provisions of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act 1977, by conducting bribery in that jurisdiction.
The allegation is contained in the criminal complaint which US Attorney Robert L Capers of the US Department of Justice (DoJ) filed in the court. The document stated, “In or about mid-2015, Odebrecht Employee 4 attended a meeting in Miami, Florida, with a consular official from Antigua and an intermediary to a high-level government official in Antigua in order to conceal Odebrecht’s corrupt activities. Odebrecht Employee 4 requested that the high-level official refrain from providing to international authorities various banking documents that would reveal illicit payments made by the Division of Structured Operations on behalf of Odebrecht, and agreed to pay US $4 million to the high-level official to refrain from sending the documents.” It continued to say that “Odebrecht Employee 3 made three payments of €1 million on behalf of Odebrecht in order to secure the deal. The contemplated fourth payment was never made”.
While the global construction conglomerate Odebrecht SA, and Brazilian petrochemical giant Braskem SA (Braskem), pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a combined total penalty of at least $3.5 billion to resolve charges with authorities, things were heating up in our bit of paradise.
The government announced that it has instructed Antigua & Barbuda’s Ambassador to the US Sir Ronald Sanders to hire an attorney to approach the US Department of Justice and the court in order to “clarify the identities” of the two individuals alleged to be Antiguan and Barbudan government officials. A December 23 press release from the Office of the Prime Minister stated, “Prime Minister Browne made it clear that his government is determined to clarify the identities of the unnamed persons claiming to act as ‘intermediaries’ for a ‘high level official’, and to take swift and appropriate action…”
We have never heard the outcome of that engagement but the government’s determination to clarify and take swift action has given way to a ‘wait for corroboration’ and what seems to be an allergy to a public inquiry.  So instead of moving mountains to clear the good name of Antigua & Barbuda, we are apparently more content to allow allegations to linger and our reputation to diminish in the eyes of the global community. 
 Meanwhile, we are treated to an extraordinary game of political football that sees the politicians exercising their pointing fingers with great regularity and accusations being bandied about like words do not matter. The prime minister, in dismissing the call for an inquiry by the political leader of the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP), Senator Harold Lovell, has indicated that his political ambitions, and having what he considers to be a weak political opponent, trump the need for a public inquiry. The PM, while posting on antiguaobserver.com wrote comments such as,   “Give him a break. I need him, ‘easy target,’ my best political asset at this time,” and “Harold, you know that it is unlikely, that I will embroil the country in the unnecessary mess of a PI, but be careful how you call the bluff. I may just change my mind and destroy your political career. Then again, you are such an easy target that it is not in my interest to dun you.”
In response, Senator Lovell has stated that he will not get involved in any tit-for-tat with the PM and has described his posts as “an attempt to distract the public from the matters at hand”.  He criticised the media, saying, “This is a red herring strategy; when you have him pinned, he throws something else and the journalist run after the new bone.”
The most salient question for us? What is the cost? We can look at this from a number of angles. First, and the most obvious is, what is the cost of an inquiry? The PM’s comments lead us to believe that it is extremely expensive but that is as close as we can get as a guess. We must also ask, what is the cost of these very public allegations? To an outsider, it would appear that all we have are dishonest politicians. That certainly must come at a cost to our reputation. And speaking of our reputation, what is the cost of all the  damage to our reputation as these very serious allegations linger? The US court documents paint an ugly picture and we would think that the powers-that-be would be eager to erase. That certainly seemed to be the case when the story broke but not so much now.
In everything we do, both action and inaction cost money, however, in this case, inaction seems to be more costly. 
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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