In 2012 I wrote an article which was published in the Mirror newspaper which represents the views of the PPP. I said that the PPP governments had done much to deal with corruption and I pointed out the steps that had been taken. I noted, however, that increasing government spending had created additional opportunities for more corruption to flourish which had become pervasive in Guyana. The events provoked by that article defined the PPP’s and Government’s attitude to the issue of corruption. The Government denied the existence of corruption then, before, and throughout the post-Jagan era and called on those who made the allegations to prove that corruption existed. Since corruption by its nature is conducted in secret, it was not possible to ‘prove it.’ Corruption has continued to grow since 2012 and did not skip a beat when APNU+AFC took office in 2015.
The Vice News report attracted wide publicity. It tried to implicate the vice president but there was no smoking gun. But it interviewed several Chinese businessmen who revealed activities that could be described as bribery and money laundering. These allegations had much resonance and the President suggested that there should be an investigation. Whatever the investigation may or may not reveal or prove, whether it is a police investigation or one by a commission of inquiry, Vice News exposed a sliver of what many believe to be the ugly underbelly of widespread corruption in Guyana.
The issue of corruption has been of concern to many people. The PPP has complained bitterly about it during the term of office of APNU+AFC. But it somehow believes that the nozzle of corruption was locked tight during its term of office, opened to full flow during APNU+AFC’s term, and has closed shut again. Corruption doesn’t work like that. It has a life of its own. Once it starts it grows inexorably. Once entrenched, its eradication, if possible, is a herculean task. The population of Guyana, and I mean the entire population, except government members, know that corruption exists and with increasing government expenditure and more services, it’s getting worse. The reason that corruption is getting worse is that the Government refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem and, therefore, sees no need to do anything further about it.
Guyana has an array of anti-corruption measures in place. These include the Integrity Commission Act, the National Procurement and Tender Administration, the Procurement Commission and prevention of corruption under the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, the Anti Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act and the bodies under it, including stringent regulations imposed on banks, the Special Organised Crime Unit which now appears to have been confined to its original function of prosecuting financial crimes, consistent Auditor General’s reports and a functioning Public Accounts Committee.
Notwithstanding all of these instruments, Guyana has dropped two points to 87 out of 180 on the Transparency International Corruption Index (TICI). While Transparency International has been subject of some criticism, its TICI is widely accepted as a broad measurement of the level of corruption existing within a country. Guyana might not be exactly at 87 on the scale of corruption in the world, but it is generally in the middle and certainly not in the first one-quarter or one-third of countries. There is an annual ritual of Government attacking the TICI, but most people believe that in relation to Guyana the TICI broadly reflects Guyana’s condition. This should worry the Government. But it does not appear to do so. I take this opportunity to give a shout out to the Transparency International Guyana, which is doing an excellent job of keeping the issue of corruption in the public domain. Displaying hostility to these bodies, instead of engaging them, tells its own story.
What else can the Government do? It ought to first accept that corruption is an issue that must be addressed. With an economy expanding by leaps and bounds, weak administrative systems not geared to the delivery of services in an expeditious manner and inadequate remuneration across the public service, Guyana is particularly vulnerable. Therefore, the Government ought to dispense with the notion that those who raise the issue of corruption are all against it. It ought to embrace the view that at least some of those who would like to see corruption reduced, including vast numbers of people who are silent, but who are the daily victims of petty corruption which is widespread, would like to see the Government do better. A change of attitude will earn the Government broad sympathy and support. That new attitude should generate the establishment a special, permanent, high-level office, dedicated to a long-term effort to reducing corruption. The first task of such an office would be to engage with international institutions such as the World Bank, the UN and many others that have expertise and are willing to devise and implement measures. Unless the Government acts now, corruption will become entrenched, if it is not already so, and will eventually consume its own ranks. And for those who are tempted, they should know that corruption cannot be hidden. Every act of high-level corruption is, or becomes, known and is whispered across Georgetown.