Challenges to transparency in Government have attracted public comment in the past two weeks. I make no allegation or judgment on recent events since they are based only on newspaper reports. But apart from these recent matters, allegations of corruption and nepotism are to be expected in the absence of strict and enforceable rules, which have been promised by the Government. These challenges have been occurring since Guyana gained its Independence and will continue until Governments take steps to enforce transparency and accountability.
There is clearly no across the board political appetite for steps to curb corruption and nepotism. The PPP/C came to office in 1992 with one of its major promises being the elimination of corruption. It brought auditor general’s reports, which had been lagging for seven years up to date. It established a more transparent system of procurement. It implemented the Integrity Commission. However, in the ensuing twenty years, with the vast increase in public and infrastructure spending, corruption escalated to unimaginable proportions in every sphere of society. It became possible to grease palms to speed up or obtain services. Whatever the reason, so sensitive was the PPP/C Government to allegations of corruption, that when I described it as ‘pervasive’ in 2012 and called for additional steps to deal with it, I was severely attacked and forced to resign.
The APNU+AFC Government came to office in 2015 with an agenda against corruption that was as prominent as that of the PPP/C in 1992. Within months of its assumption of office serious questions about its commitment began to emerge. Since no decisive steps have been taken so far to curb corruption and nepotism, it appears that its inclination is to allow these devastatingly negative features of our society to continue unabated.
Corruption has now become endemic in our society that nothing but a root and branch evisceration of its fundamental cause will have any effect. While an attack on the problem on multiple fronts is necessary, one of the driving forces for corruption is our ethnically competitive and adversarial political system. One ethno-political alliance obtains office and gorges itself, then the other gets into office and takes its turn. This is not going to stop until the competition for each to outdo the other is closed off. And it can only be closed off by a new political system. It is well known that I have been advocating the implementation of a form of inclusive governance that will result in the major parties sharing the cabinet in proportion to the votes obtained at the general elections.
Since corruption is such a major issue in our society, many questions have been asked about the negative impact of such a system of governance on corruption. The questions are based on the assumption that neither party is interested in eliminating corruption and if they are working together in the same government, they will pool efforts to continue corruption and evade detection by maintaining weak and unenforceable rules.
Since constitutional reforms would be necessary to effect the governmental changes that I have advocated, such reforms should also focus on measures to eliminate corruption since there might be no effective opposition to maintain a focus on the issue. The answer is to sever executive control of parliament, strengthen parliamentary oversight of the executive, simplify procedures for members or groups of members to table legislation and establish legislative drafting capacity of the Parliament.
All these can be accomplished by constitutional amendments which provide that ministers of the government shall not be members of parliament. Where the executive is not in control of parliament and the electoral system is modified by effectively implementing a mixed first past the post/proportional representation system that has already agreed to but ineffectively implemented, the grip of political parties on their members would be loosened because a substantial number of members would also be answerable to their constituencies. Restructuring of parliament would also be necessary to establish standing committees on corruption, to provide greater administrative support and resources. In this way parliamentary oversight over corruption, and other matters not currently within its purview, would be established.
With its own capacity to initiate legislation without having to rely on the government to table legislation, parliament can enact laws to deal with bribery, corruption, nepotism, transparency, accountability and conflict of interest. In addition, where it is considered necessary, it could promulgate codes of conduct in subsidiary form, such as the code of conduct for lawyers being subsidiary to the Legal Practitioners Act. In this way their violation would attract serious sanctions, not merely a slap on the wrist.
Having been integrated as part of our public life, corruption is now difficult to uproot and eradicate. It feeds on the culture, availability of opportunities and weak systems. In a short while, Guyana will experience an increase in public spending, facilitated by an increase in income, that will dwarf that which occurred in the 1980s to the 1990s, which facilitated a vast increase in corruption. Unless political and legislative reforms are carried out now, what is going on now will be child’s play.