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On 28th February 2023, President Irfaan Ali made the single most disturbing disclosure since the advent of the year – that the Government of Guyana, in the absence of any form of public consultation, has decided to move ahead with the implementation of a national biometric database for the facilitation of private and government business. Described as akin to India’s problematic Aadhaar ‘One Card’ system, this extremely intrusive undertaking will require the collection, storage, and management of the most personal information and data possessed by every Guyanese.
And, if history is to be a safe prognosticator of the future, then the dubious track record of the Government of Guyana, and pawns of the de-facto president, Bharrat Jagdeo, cannot be trusted with access to any information that compromises the personal safety and security of citizens- especially dissenters.
From the inception, the circumstances surrounding its announcement were enough to immediately excite the suspicion of even the most naïve but thinking citizen. If not because of its secret single sourcing, which presumes that it will be attended by kickbacks, money under the table, and every conceivable scheme of graft under the sun and the fact that it is being acquired, not thru the local Public Procurement Commission, but rather “facilitated by” an Emerati businessman and politician of the ruling “tribal autocracy” or monarchy that rules Dubai- His Highness Sheik Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum!
This clandestine and surreptitious action of the PPP government to ignore that statutory body begs the question what material, purpose was meant to be hidden by this approach bereft of any iota of public and requisite transparency! Nonetheless, or consequently, it behooves us to recognise that the current environment in which this PPP questionable initiative is to be founded, and that the lack of a robust regulatory regime, inclusive of local human expert capacity, requisite and judicious legislation, regulation, and a broad knowledge base for implementation of a neutral one card system is a precursor to financial fraud and abuse on a massive scale.
One is convincingly moved by its evocation of the Jagdeo administration and its cocaine-trafficking co-conspirator’s unauthorised harvesting of personal data through tracking devices which were in turn used to murder in excess of 200 Guyanese. To date, the actual number of casualties that succumbed to the administration’s ruthless abuse of coercive powers is not yet known, and it is likely to remain unknown as compromised media houses relentlessly attempt to expunge from the alleged murderous credentials of Bharrat Jagdeo the likes of Ronald Gajraj, Leslie Ramsammy, and the infamous Phantom Squad.
However, even if one tries to momentarily digress from the immediate concern of life or death, there are a multitude of critically unaddressed issues that abound. Foremost of these must be the seemingly duplicitous position of the present administration, in so far as it suggests that the biometric database will offer security features that enhance transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the conduct of domestic and international financial transactions, but not guarantee the same benefits to the woefully defective Guyanese electoral system. Arguably then, it would appear that there is a strong possibility that the main objective of the ‘One Card’ system may be less about changing the status quo and boosting transparency and accountability, and more about uninhibited efficiency in pillaging the Guyanese economy.
Guyanese are currently engaged in a robust discussion of racial marginalisation, and some have likened the clear bias and discrimination of the government to apartheid. In the circumstances in which there are significant ethnic tensions, African Guyanese have an aversion to building a society in which the authorities are likely to embrace totalitarian tendencies. In a dictatorship as is evolving in Guyana, everyday intrusiveness would be conjoined with the full power of modern computer and database technology. The result could be a nation where citizens; movements inside their own country are monitored and recorded through these internal, ethnic, or political passes”, very much reminiscent of the Apartheid South Africa’s ‘dompas’ or passbooks! Rather than eliminating discrimination, the one card system card would have the same effect on a massive scale, as Guyanese become subject to ceaseless status and identity checks and controls from government officials, police, banks, merchants, and sundry others.
Further, in the context of Guyana, the history of endemic corruption in the society can virtually ensure that we will see financial fraud in the form of skimming off the cards and the movement of ghost funds to legitimate accounts in the banks. The ghost funds can enter the economic sectors, to purchase consumer and manufacturing goods, services, foreign exchange, and land. Converting ghost dollars to other currencies will additionally facilitate capital flight.
Guyana after many years and much work with international partners signed on and implemented regulations to de-risk banks but is now rushing to implement the one card system with the support of the two proposed countries reopening flows of money and payments under the radar and surveillance of international regulatory organizations aimed at reducing financial crimes.
The widespread press reports of narco- trafficking and the involvement of elites close to the current government and the recent suspension of the country for its poor performance in meeting the requirements of the EITI as well as its teetering rating in the Corruption Index all create the basis for significant concern regarding this development. Considering the foregoing, this project should be halted pending a complete evaluation by objective entities not linked to the PPP government and its Vice President, who has been identified in international press reports as corrupt, and who validates that description with a long list of failures in public projects introduced during his unremarkable tenure.