Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
Prior to occupying office, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) party promised Guyanese greater access to information about the affairs of our nation. On August 30, 2022 a report from the Department of Information (DPI) stated that President Ali promised: “Higher level of accountability, transparency for oil revenues.” There are many more references, in the media and elsewhere, to promises made, by the party, of a greater flow and frequency of information to citizens.
After two years in government, the PPP/C has set a record as being the most secretive government in the history of Guyana and by extension the most destructive. Government is of the people and those privileged to be in the seat of government, whether by fair or foul means, have a responsibility to be honest and open with the people. When they engage in secrecy their intent becomes questionable and cause for concern, as evident over the years with the plethora of corruption, division and mismanagement of our beloved Guyana.
Withholding information that people ought to have is an attempt to control the way people think and act because it limits their understanding of whatever the reality is. They limit response to how you perceive the world around you, and therefore your response to situations that may not be in your best interest and vice versa. It is destructive to one’s freedom, rights and survival.
November 2019, the Opposition PPP/C launched an outline of its 2020 elections manifesto. At that event, the party deceptively promised more jobs and a reduced cost of living. During the launch of its manifesto, the PPP/C Presidential Candidate Irfaan Ali asked the public to give the party a chance to prove itself.
Ali said: “To those who may not have historically supported us, at least give us a chance, an opportunity to be heard. Give us an opportunity through this document to reach into your hearts, to reach into your homes so that you can analyse the plans that we have, so that you can make a more informed decision.” But those words were part of a wider plan to deceive the nation, from the very beginning of the PPP/C campaign.
There is no transparency, no accountability, and the flow of information about government projects has dried up. Citizens are kept in the dark on the provision of public goods and services by the government. In fact, even the people’s representatives in parliament cannot get the government to provide basic information on certain projects. The PPP/C’s behaviour constitutes an act of undermining the people’s desire and effort to promote good governance.
One such project is the construction of the Natural Gas-fired 300MW power plant and the Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) plant. Last Thursday, the PPP/C bluntly and shockingly refused to disclose a timeline for the availability of the final investment plan, for a multi- billion gas- to- shore project. This is particularly troubling given that a huge sum of taxpayers and citizens money has already been spent on this project.
In 2022, the government allocated $24,613, 000,000, in the budget for the project. In 2023, another $43,000,000 was approved by that party, for the construction. But the government does not see the need or any urgency to submit or make available the investment plan to the people. How is it possible for a government that claims to be responsible and transparent to have expended such huge amounts without having a final investment plan.
Speaking on this matter the Minister of Natural Resources, Vickram Bharrat said: “There are other agreements on supply, buyer’s agreement, field development, licensing conditions, onshore works, and land matters that are currently being drafted. The respective agreements and policy documents will be presented to this Honourable House when they have been agreed upon and executed. All agreements are being done in a timely manner to meet the Final Investment Decision which will allow for the project to be completed by our committed deadline of December 2024.” Shocking, isn’t it? What is the big secret about? This is the people’s money, not the personal credit card of operatives and friends of the PPP/C.
Again, there is the US$460M pre-contract audit report, the mining contracts that his Vice President promised repeatedly to have handed over; he has not, and the 4th Yellowtail oil project, all shrouded in secrecy. One other example is the release of a simple contract. The government appointed former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Justice Charles Ramson Sr, as the country’s first ever Commissioner of Information.
He described his position as a “clearing house for all information requested by members of the public.” That appointment of a Commissioner of Information was made under the Access to Information Act of 2011 that allows for members of the public to request information relating to public institutions such as government owned company, agency or statutory bodies. Yet, in 2022, a simple request by a Guyanese activist to the Commissioner of Information, see a contract, awarded by the Ministry of Housing to a company- Impressions, was met with serious resistance. To- date, that contract remains a secret. Even the Commissioner of Information, appointed by this very government, could not get the information.
Then there is the COVID- 19 Cash Grant. The nation is still waiting on the final accounts of this money. Since 2020, the Auditor General said that an audit of the Covid Cash Grant was underway. Also, the audit of the Flood Relief Programme for which hundreds of millions remain unaccounted.
But the attitude of this government is tantamount to ‘selling the family silver.’ The PPP/C must know that they can only do it once. In form and substance, the incumbent’s action to withhold information on agreements and contracts that involve public finances and state assets constitutes an abuse of the right of citizens not only to know but also to participate in the decision- making process, and the benefits of those projects to their communities and the nation as a whole.
In the light of this dark governmental secrecy, which has been given the same status as a policy by this government, it has surprised no one that our country has earned itself a place below some of its smaller neighbours in the Caribbean on the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The frightening thing about this is that the secrecy, in which almost everything is shrouded, facilitates corruption. Corruption has impoverished and destroyed more families, communities and killed more people than military wars. In fact, corruption is that flame that has ignited many civil and other conflicts in the world. It is a serious threat to national stability. It undermines sustainable economic growth and development of any nation. It robs the people. A multiplicity of other evils is directly and indirectly associated with this monster- corruption.
In Guyana, the emerging oil and gas sector has made hundreds of billions available and accessible to government. That coupled with the dense fog of silence of the government on mega and other projects would encourage suspicion of government’s intent for all Guyanese.
Almost every day, there is some media report about government discussing projects with international companies, signing Memorandums of Understanding, hiring consultancies, and inviting one group or the other to visit and provide or help with the provision of public goods. Not a word on many of these undertakings to the people, whose interests, the government is called to protect.
However, the high level of secrecy with which the PPP/C government manages the affairs of the state prevents President Ali from holding press conferences on any matter or issue that involves his government. The Vice President, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, frequently sits with certain individuals and news channels through which he pumps propaganda. But then again, the Vice President is not the President of Guyana.
Perhaps, the government does not realise that the first causality of secrecy is public trust. Trust is essential for good governance. It is important to the government and the state for a number of reasons: it increases voluntary compliance to public policies, particularly as it relates to fiscal capacity- the state’s ability to increase tax revenues to provide public goods. Also, it is crucial for nation building, and for mutually reinforcing reciprocal relationships between the government and the people, relationships necessary for social and economic stability and growth.
Government can achieve much more if citizens trust that policy- makers have their best interest as the main determinant of policy- making and policy enactment. No government can function effectively without public trust; vital social and other systems will eventually collapse. In Guyana it is just a question of when. If the Ali led government continues hiding everything in the dark ; not being accountable to the people; squandering the nation’s wealth, and treating citizens with disrespect it will happen sooner than later.