Roy Cullen, a former Toronto-area member of Parliament, fights the scourge of government corruption.
Deddeda Stemler photograph for The Globe and Mail.
By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
August 30, 2010
As a young man, Roy Cullen perused the books of an oil firm doing business in Indonesia.
The articling chartered accountant was asked to confirm the accuracy of certain calculations.
The numbers added up, but he became curious as to their purpose.
He learned to his dismay that the large sums — millions of dollars — were being placed in a Swiss bank account for the benefit of an Indonesian general.
Many years later, after a career in the British Columbia civil service, Mr. Cullen won a byelection in a Toronto-area riding, taking a seat in the House of Commons. He chaired the standing committee on finance and served as a parliamentary secretary to the finance minister. A numbers guy, he helped design and implement Canada’s anti-money laundering laws.
He was staggered by the amounts of dirty money floating around the globe.
“Huge sums of money,” he said. “Absolutely obscene.”
Feeling exasperated, not sure how to battle the scourge, he accepted an invitation a decade ago to join the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC).
(I know what you’re thinking: Parliamentarians Against Corruption sounds like Gluttons Against Ice Cream. “An oxymoron!” Mr. Cullen whooped when this was pointed out. He’s one pol with a sense of humour about his former profession. “We’re careful about who comes in. We’ve got a good vetting system.”)
Mr. Cullen moved back to Victoria two years ago, having retired from the House with a perfect election record of 5-0.
He is now a semi-retired public policy consultant, having settled into a home in a gated community near Christmas Hill and taken out a membership at the Uplands Golf Club.
From this comfortable perch, he maintains a crusade against corrupt leaders and the kleptocracies he says doom millions of people to a lifetime of poverty.
His group chases bigger fish than petty officials. The cause is greater than a backlash against baksheesh.
“Petty bribery is bad enough,” he said. “These officials aren’t paid anything, or so little, they’re expected to take bribes — 50 bucks to get a permit. A little bit here, a little bit there.
“What we focus on in GOPAC is big ticket corruption.”
There is no shortage of villains. A global rogues’ gallery of crooks and grafters rolls off his tongue, from Sami Abacha (Nigeria) to Mobutu Sese Seko (Zaire), from Daniel Arap Moi (Kenya) to Ferdinand Marcos (Philippines).
If corrupt leaders were not ripping off the public purse, Mr. Cullen argues, the quality of life would improve for people who now have no opportunity to leave the ranks of the poor. He has written a book, “The Poverty of Corrupt Nations” (Blue Butterfly Books), outlining solutions to make corruption that much more difficult in Third World nations — a free press, less red tape, an independent judiciary, better pay for civil servants, and more power to parliamentarians at the expense of the executive branch. The Literary Review of Canada called the author’s plan “a mostly sensible agenda.”
He has written a second book, “Beyond Question Period,” which combines explanations of how a bill is passed with personal anecdotes about his experiences on the campaign trail as a Liberal in Etobicoke North.
He first ran for public office in 1996 after working as an assistant deputy forests minister in B.C. and as a vice-president of a forestry company.
He acknowledges our country is not immune to corruption, citing his own party’s role in the Sponsorship Scandal.
There’s plenty more. Two words — Karlheinz Schreiber. Not to mention a criminal trial scheduled to resume in two weeks in Vancouver regarding the provincial government’s sale of BC Rail.
Mr. Cullen will be chairing a meeting in Paris at the end of September on money laundering. Delegates, including elected officials from around the world, will be briefed by experts from Interpol, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund. The Parliamentarians Against Corruption are preparing a handbook for parliamentarians who are “frustrated, annoyed and angry about the laundering of corrupt money.” The group has already helped Kyrgyzstan prepare anti-money laundering legislation.
It is a complicated task.
“When it comes to money laundering,” Mr. Cullen said, “I know enough about it that I know that I know very little about it.”
He was asked if he had ever forked over “tea money” in Thailand? Or been nipped by a policeman looking for a mordida (“little bite”) in Mexico? Or greased a palm south of the 49th?
“I never have and I never will,” he vows.
If only it was that easy with all politicians.