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With regards to the Vice media interview on alleged corruption, the public and visitors as well as foreign business persons say Guyana is a very corrupt place that corruption is a way of life – of getting things done or conducting business. They are implying that unethical attitudes, bribery, cover-ups, poor accountability, and administration of justice, etc., have all conspired to create a culture of corruption. Few Ministries and government agencies are exempted.
Corruption takes a high toll on the nation. It is noted that corruption is a major drain on the country’s economy. Tens of billions of dollars were siphoned off annually since 2016 and hundreds of millions increasing to billions annually post-Jagans years between 1999 and 2011. Almost every business person admits to paying bribes or extortion costs in exchange for government contracts. Pervasive corruption has long stymied development and fueled emigration of some of the brightest talent in this poor, ‘largely backward’ country. There is also criminal penetration into the political establishment.
Corruption curtails funding for development and agriculture and spending on social services, health care, education, public wage increase, infrastructure, and fishing and the like. The public is robbed all around. Corruption has led to an exodus of Guyanese including many business persons fleeing the country. Decent staff are subjected to harassment or terminated. The termination of decent people who are against corruption makes the prospect to combat corruption gloomier.
Unlike other countries, Guyana does not have an independent body like a commission against Corruption. The court should be empowered to open corruption investigations into every public figure. No politician has ever been convicted of corruption. Hardly any is charged. Yet if you talk to Guyanese, they will tell you of everyone who is on the take. Few officials are exempted. Officials from political sides are implicated when in government. Even some who you thought are clean, are now taking bribes. Some demand bribes for a contract.
Has the pubic noticed that there is no effective whistle blower law and that since the PPP was restored into office in August 202, there has been no anti-corruption legislation. The Chancellor of the Judiciary on her own can inquire can take on the corrupt. She has power to inquire into acts of corruption. This would embolden the rest of the justice sector to take on major corruption cases. Even the Attorney General himself, the second most popular political figure and perhaps among the least corrupt in the government, can launch investigation into corrupt transactions. Would he do it? Does he have the courage to go against his political boss and do it?
Those who serve the public ought to do so in the best interest of citizens and not self-interests. They should not serve the public to enrich themselves. They should minimise the costs and inconvenience that the public must endure. The country needs transparent political leadership at the top, but also civic activism against corruption from below.
What can be done about corruption? The United States and BCE countries can help to tame corruption in Guyana and improve accountability. The ABCE countries can fund an independent body to expose and combat corruption – providing training and a secretariat to investigate complaints about officials who are on the take. When newspapers write about corruption, they face libel. It would be impossible to file a libel case against a body investigating complaints of corruption.
The ABCE can also give support to Civil Society to speak out on corruption and to hold public engagements all over the country about the costs and to hear complaints of corruption an. The ABCE can also invigorate anti=corruption efforts by pressuring the government to set up a constitutional body to investigate complaints such a body. I appeal to ABCE to please help the public to fight corruption.