In 2012, in an article in the PPP’s Mirror newspaper, I argued that while the Government had done much to curb corruption, the time had come to consider additional preventative measures. The exponential growth of public expenditure, I suggested, provided fertile soil for the growth of corruption which had by that time become “pervasive.” I commended the Government for the measures it had implemented during the previous twenty years but suggested that they had become inadequate. I had met President Ramotar after the article was sent to the Mirror and before it was published and mentioned it to him. He said that it was “ok.” A few weeks later at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the PPP, chaired by President Ramotar, I was drawn over the coals and, as if that was not enough, I was attacked, abused and humiliated in a manner that I had never experienced or encountered. I was forced to resign from the PPP which was the most painful decision I had ever taken up to that point. The Government’s refrain on the issue of corruption has been to “prove it,” or to suggest that it is not as bad as claimed.

The Guyanese society is riddled with nepotism and corruption. It has now become so firmly entrenched as part of our culture that it would be now extremely difficult to eradicate. If in 2012 government expenditures, at least in infrastructure, had grown from two to twenty billion dollars, today it has grown by multiples of that sum. Apart from infrastructure, overall expenditures in the entire gamut of social services and social benefits have multiplied by gargantuan proportions. Consequently, nepotism and corruption now have far more fertile soil in which to flourish. Facing a brick wall of denial and confronted by challenges to prove it when alleging corruption, most people have given up in frustration in their efforts, not to blame anyone or to expose any individual, but to seek Government’s support for additional measures. Many also fear government retribution. Since my article of 2012, the only significant measure implemented was the Public Procurement Act. And that was not a government initiative. It was proposed as a constitutional measure by the Constitution Reform Commission in 1999 so that it could be protected from legislative manipulation. It took over fifteen years and constant public pressure for it to be implemented. The Human Rights Commission has not yet been established, after twenty-five years. This was noted by the ICCPR Report.

Local and international efforts to restore democracy in Guyana since the 1970s gave rise to a growing body of civil society individuals and groups committed to the promotion of civil and political rights, unity and democratic principles. These groups worked with past PPP Governments and collaborated with US institutions to promote electoral and constitutional reform and civil rights. However, relations with the PPP eventually began to fray and these groups, along with the PNCR Opposition, followed the path that had been earlier charted by the PPP and other opposition political parties, by reaching out to the international community. The current Opposition is now beginning to make an impact on US Congressional and Executive opinion. The recent criticisms of the Guyana Government on the issue of ethnic discrimination by Hakeem Jeffries and Letitia James and the calls of the US Government for inclusive policies are reflective of this trend. Civil society has extended its focus and is becoming more adept in utilizing those international resources that are available and place high value in the work and opinion of civil society groups. The recent engagements of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in connection with the events at Chinese Landing Village and that of the UN Human Rights Committee on Guyana’s compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Guyana is a signatory are the product of this work.

In its recent report the ICCPR made wide ranging recommendations, including some in relation to corruption. The recommendation in part is as follows: “The State Party should expand its efforts to adopt and implement, efficient, and prompt measures to promote good governance and combat corruption and impunity at all levels of government. In this respect, the Committee urges the State Party to: (a) adopt concrete measures to address the root causes of corruption as a matter of priority….” Recommendations also relate to constitutional issues, the Optional Protocol, implementing the Human Rights Commission, and many others. The ICCPR also welcomed the adoption by Guyana of sixteen separate policy measures.

Guyana has now achieved a high international profile as a richly endowed oil producer, poised to make a substantial economic and political impact on the Latin American and Caribbean region. It currently serves on the UN Security Council. In 2012 the PPP could afford to ignore and penalize a leading member for raising the issue of corruption. If the Government ignores the ICCPR Report, it runs the risk of jeopardizing its influence and stature.  Unfortunately, if the past is a guide, the Government will act only if there is a crisis, such as being viewed as a corrupt oil oligarchy. But no such crisis is imminent.     

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