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|Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran, writing in the recent column, has not opposed growing calls for an investigation into allegations of corruption in the awarding of state contracts as revealed in the US-based VICE News. Writing in his column, “Accountability Watch” in Stabroek News, Goolsarran noted a few unsettling aspects of the [Vice President Bharat Jagdeo and investigative journalist Isobel Yeung] interview.
Goolsarran expressed reservation about the Vice President’s (VP) chuckling response to the question asked about what Guyana has to offer, is “[t]he opportunity to make money that is why people are coming here, so that’s what I am going to say.” He observed the VP could have found better answers including opportunities in the oil and gas sector and how Guyanese could benefit from the new wealth. According to Goolsarran such answers “would have been more comforting.”
Rubbishing the VP’s explanation, the Transparency International Corruption Index, which reported Guyana increasing by two points for 2021, is like “a blacklisting index. The darker you are, the lower you are on the Inde,” he noted “[f]or a country to be included in the Index, there must be a minimum of three data sources that respond to specific questions relating to the following:
(b) Diversion of public funds;
(c) Use of public office for private gain without facing consequences;
(d) Ability of governments to contain corruption and enforce effective integrity mechanisms in the public sector;
(e) Red tape and excessive bureaucratic burden which may increase opportunities for corruption;
(f) Meritocratic versus nepotistic appointments in government;
(g) Effectiveness of criminal prosecution for corrupt officials;
(h) Adequacy of laws on financial disclosure and conflict of interest prevention for public officials;
(i) Legal protection for whistleblowers, journalists and investigators when they are reporting cases of bribery and corruption;
(j) State capture by narrow vested interests; and
(k) Access of civil society to information on public affairs.”
The Vice President’s comment that ‘[t]he darker you are, the lower you are on the Index’ is not borne out by the 2021 CPI and earlier indices, said Goolsarran.
In the VICE News’ report, the VP was caught on tape with his tenant and businessman Su Zhirong, engaging an undercover ‘businessman’ (a member of the VICE team) about business opportunities in Guyana. Responding to the businessman’s inquiry, the VP said, “No, no, no I’m not getting involved in business. Su is my friend. He gets all the support. Su deals with all the agreements. I don’t. The thing is that my thing is that I’m in government, so I assist from government side.”
Goolsarran reminds that “Ministers of the Government are policy-makers. They ought not to make policies and at the same time execute them since such action, apart from being considered a conflict of interest, is a usurpation of the functions of the competent agencies in government. Besides, it is anathema to good governance, transparency and accountability. When Ministers step down from their policy-making positions and become operational, the floodgates for all sorts of allegations are wide open. I cannot recall Ministers getting involved in operational matters under the late President Hoyte, except perhaps in one case.”
The A Partnership of National Unity, Alliance For Change and sections of civil society have been calling for the VP to resign from public office or President Irfaan Ali ask him to resign and a credible international investigation be conducted into the awarding of state contracts.