President Irfaan Ali’s government is aggressively implementing actions and plans to address major challenges, including the global pandemic, an unstable democracy, the defense of territorial and maritime sovereignty, climate change and the development of infrastructure.
But successes will be short-lived or unstable, if a culture of corruption is allowed to grow and persist.
That is why Dr. Cheddi Jagan never denied, ignored or downplayed the fact that corruption is one of the main causes of instability, inequality and poverty. His government “set their face sternly against corruption and extravagance,” because it retards human development by undermining democracy and good governance, by eroding the rule of law, by hampering diverse economic growth, by preventing competitive and fair business conditions, by harming the environment, and by facilitating the flight of financial funds.
Fighting against corruption works. Fenton Ramsahoye, Attorney General of the PPP government from 1961 to 1964, testified that “no Guyanese should ever forget that it is possible to constitute and administer a government wholly devoid of corruption.”
Under the PPP governments, from 1957 to 1964 and from 1993 to 1997, Guyana experienced the best economic growth rates, social and economic development.
Corruption will undo President Ali’s people’s progressive program to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
At least 312,000 persons, from all ethnic communities who live below or near the poverty line, will be deprived of access to quality services because they cannot afford private health care, private schools, private cars, electric generators and purifying water systems for their homes.
Corruption in Guyana is not rare. In a US Vanderbilt University 2009 Public Opinion Survey in Guyana, 22% of Guyanese responded that they had to pay bribes to officials in the following services – police, Customs, licences, electricity, water, construction and environmental permits, education, health and the courts. Among 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries, Guyana had the 8th highest rate for paying bribes.
Corrupt persons come from all political parties, ideologies, ethnicities, classes, genders, religions, ages, sizes, shapes and colors. But now, many Guyanese are not willing to be silent when they experience corruption. They do not accept excuses like “public officials are not well paid and they need a ‘top up,’ or the paying of a bribe avoids bureaucratic delays, or it is not a big deal because everyone does it.”
At home and in the diaspora, letter writers to the Kaieteur News and the Stabroek News are speaking out against alleged grand and petty corruption. They are disappointed about how previous and present governments administer our new oil and gas sector.
They want transparency and they expect officials to properly follow due diligence procedures. They do not accept the silence or “memory loss” of key officials about how licences and concessions are granted in the natural resources sector. They do not accept premature claims that no laws were broken. They are calling for President Ali to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry. If any politicians and officials are found guilty of wrongdoing, then they want them to face the full force of the law, regardless of their political affiliation or ethnicity.
Letter writers are also highlighting concerns about how CEOs, executive staff and Boards of Directors are hired and appointed in ministries and public agencies; about how public tenders are awarded; about how scholarships are granted; and about the process to lease and sell public lands, especially in key locations on the East Bank and East Coast of Demerara.
People are also worried about warning signs that some Ministers and officials are demonstrating arrogant know-it-all attitudes and may be giving special treatment to their families and friends.
The greatest threat to Guyana’s future would be if corrupt politicians and public officials act like “a class for themselves,” and, with impunity escape sanctions, fines and dismissal.
All countries have corruption. However, the lesser corrupt countries like Canada, Denmark, Norway and Sweden practice a high degree of social and economic justice. These countries recognize and actively work to minimize corruption. On the other hand, more corrupt countries have huge socio-economic inequalities, a culture of silence, little accountability and integrity, over-complicated procedures and high discretional authority for officials.
In many oil-producing countries, there is persistent poverty and widespread corruption in their electoral systems and in their military, police, judiciary, legislature, bureaucracy and media.
In Angola, between 2007 and 2010, the culture of corruption and silence, enabled corrupt politicians and officials to steal an unbelievable sum of US$32B of state assets for their families, friends and associates.
For the next 25 years, we the people have to minimize corruption so that the revenues from the oil and gas sector would bring life-changing benefits for workers, farmers, the unemployed, the under-employed, the dispossessed, the marginalized, the poor and the hungry in all the ethnic communities and especially among women, youth and seniors.
What is to be done? Guyanese do not have to be “trapped” in a corrupt system. The next letter will explore how, at home and in the diaspora, we must become corruption hunters and resisters at the national, regional and local levels in Guyana.
Geoffrey Da Silva