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Investors and the diplomatic corps must be alarmed at the disintegrating state of Guyana’s politics, from the mundanely corrupt to the ethnic division, political strife and a judicial system caught in the dysfunction.
Last week, the Police Force performed an astoundingly stupid action. They issued a Wanted Bulletin for Rickford Burke, a United States (U.S) citizen who has organised an unrelenting campaign for good governance and racial equity; an activism that has evoked the ire of the governing People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C). The PPP/C has been trying to fight back an image of corruption and racism, in spite of the fact that Guyana has fallen on the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index and despite the fact that, during their tenure, repeated allegations of racial discrimination by the political opposition and members of civil society have been met with no credible denial.
Burke, a well-connected Guyanese born US citizen has managed to build a powerful network of connections within various government organisations in Guyana in his fight to hold the government to high standards. He enjoys widespread support from Guyanese across ethnicities and socio-economic strata, particularly those who see him as a fearless voice and one determined to bring about positive social change in the land of his birth.
Citizens see the recent wanted bulletin, coming almost a year to the previous, as clear efforts by arms of the state designed to entrap and compromise him. Efforts by some to compromise the judicial system as presently being played out between whistleblower Detective Sergeant Bascom versus the state; where the Director of Public Prosecutions is requesting removal of the assigned magistrate, which is outside of her scope of responsibility, give rise to concerns that the democratic rights of citizens are facing greater threats.
Members of the diplomatic community and investors take democratic rights for granted in their home country. It is not the same in Guyana. Although by no stretch of the imagination is Rickford Burke a lightweight and the Guyana Police Force and Government of Guyana will have a fight on its hands with significant international repercussions, it is important for citizens the world over, to pay attention to what is happening in Guyana.
Ever increasing accusations of racism, daily examples of a compromised justice system, extrajudicial killings, and subjugation of citizens portend a country of significant risks and one to which foreign investors will be wary. Even if the government offers lucrative incentives, where there is no guarantee of democratic rights, it creates an unstable environment. Those who take the risk will insist on extraordinarily high returns and short payback periods to reduce the financial risks to their shareholders. Essentially, this will not benefit the long-term development of Guyana.
The Government of Guyana must ask itself some very tough questions. Which foreign companies want to invest in a country on the precipice of civil upheaval? Which foreign companies want to invest in a country that is intent on designing economic outcomes to favour one ethnic group over another? History tells us this is a recipe for disaster.
Ethical businesses would be wary of investing in a country where those who exercise their democratic freedoms or who move to stamp out corruption, are jailed, murdered or unjustly targeted by the state (Mark Benschop, Ronald Waddell, Courtney Crum-Ewing, Minister Sash Sawh and now Rickford Burke). What the PPPC government does not understand is that they are discriminating against and denying citizens of their right to earn a living in the country of their birth. Ethical international businesses want stability and assurances that the police force and the government of Guyana will serve and protect all of Guyana’s citizens.
The Guyana Police Force will do well to end the farcical Wanted Bulletin for Burke. Their action could well cost the country in ways not anticipated, notwithstanding thousands of potential jobs and millions in revenue. Reticent and concerned investors can pursue similarly lucrative alternatives in other countries such as neighbouring Suriname which is also enjoying similar oil explorations and potential wealth.
Guyana needs strong institutions led by people of good character and integrity who can be trusted to do the right things and make the right decisions. Guyana needs visionary leadership. Manufactured popularity through heavily subsidised concerts and questionable practices are no substitute for focused, ethical leadership that puts country first. President Irfaan Ali and acting Commissioner of Police Clifton Hicken have some deep thinking to do. Examining the wisdom of transnational repression is one such.