For several decades the Government’s response to allegations of the existence of corruption was: Where’s the evidence? This response served to close down such allegations. Rarely, if ever, are such allegations, when courageously made, referred to the Police. In Guyana, and many other developing countries for that matter, such allegations are treated as political attacks, even if emanating from sympathizers. This denialism and sensitivity to allegations of corruption from anyone, including the Opposition, is so pronounced that those who raise the issue are consigned to a special place in political hell. The lesson has been learnt. No friends or well-wishers of the Government would risk to raise the issue of corruption, even generally, unless they want to risk losing that friendship.

In developing countries like Guyana with weak mechanisms and systems, it is very difficult to prevent the growth of or restrain corruption. South Africa is a current example. The ANC declined in support from 62 percent to 40 percent because of corruption and inequality. The countries that have not eliminated or severely restricted corruption have suffered incalculable losses and have not been able to efficiently deploy or utilize adequate resources, lost to corruption, to effectively grow their economies and eliminate poverty. The few countries that have managed growth while keeping corruption at bay, such as Singapore, have made remarkable progress. In order to confront corruption, it must be spoken about openly and honestly. Of course, opposition parties will exploit the existence of corruption for political purposes. The way to respond to the Opposition and to other criticism generally is not to close down discussion and debate by diktat, but to confront the issue openly and with vigour.

During the Janet Jagan presidency in the late 1990s a BWIA pilot was caught smuggling gold on a flight from Guyana. In November 2012 masked men boarded a fishing boat in Curacao and stole 70 gold bars, about 476 pounds, valued at US$11.5 million, which had reportedly originated from Guyana. No public concern was made by any official. So serious has the problem of gold smuggling now become that the arrest of several departing passengers at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport just over a week ago, attempting to export a large quantity of silver-coloured gold, elicited an unusual intervention of concern by VP Jagdeo about the extensive, illegal, export of gold. The smuggling of gold has, therefore, been a widely known phenomenon for decades. If there are other suspects, who may be friends of the Government, it ought to be expected that they would terminate their illegal activities for fear of embarrassing the Government, in return for the additional, legitimate, business opportunities conferred by friendship. But the world of corruption does not work that way. Friendship is taken as a licence to expand illegitimate activities. They will merely lie low for a while, especially if the Government’s flurry of activity fades away.

Even with constant, whispered, complaints of corruption in Guyana, the announcement by the US Department of Treasury of a wide range of sanctions against Nazar Mohamed, his son Azruddin Mohamed, a number of associated businesses and former Permanent Secretary Mae Thomas, alleging massive smuggling of gold, bribery and corruption, was shocking because of the scale of the sanctions, the prominence of the parties involved, and their close relationship with the PPP. US Ambassador, Nicole Theriot, emphasized the seriousness of the actions of the US Government when Her Excellency described the types of sanctions imposed as being reserved for “very serious crimes” and are imposed for “gross levels of corruption.” Even though there were clear public indications that the parties were under scrutiny by the US Government, official naivete prevailed. No known steps were taken except a transfer.

Where’s the evidence? It’s all around for anyone who wants to see. But it’s not the duty of the public to unearth evidence of corruption and present it to the authorities. The Opposition, the public and the press are duty bound to highlight its possibility or potential and it’s for the authorities to investigate. Had they noted the years of chatter in this matter, this embarrassment would have been avoided. But embarrassment is not be the only issue. The US Government is clearly, impliedly, sending a message to the Guyana Government that quite apart from any interest the US might have in reducing corruption in the US and in Guyana, a friendly country, that corruption exists on an extensive scale in Guyana and that Guyana ought to do something about it. It is not known whether the Guyana Government will perceive that such a message is being sent and, if so, whether any measures will be taken. Past history suggests the answer.

Guyana is on the cusp of great achievements. Despite criticisms, vast, unexpected, and unbelievable developments are being driven by broadly sensible and rational policies and managed by able leadership in the Government. And the Government is experienced enough to understand that in countries like Guyana, even without oil but, moreso, with Guyana’s new found bounty, corruption will grow rapidly, become more extensive, and gnaw away at its credentials, unless it takes the issue seriously and complainants, who may otherwise wish the Government well, are not treated as enemies of the State.

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