Levels of corruption in Guyana have reached new heights of human shamefulness
Despite miles of distance and years of time our history emerges to explain the past, clarify the present and predict the future.
Recently, while at a park in Vancouver, British Columbia, I said hello to an elderly gentleman who was reading and enjoying the view and tranquility of the setting on the banks of one of the tributaries of the Fraser River. The retired gentleman saw my ‘University of Guyana’ golf shirt. He asked if I was from University of Guyana or worked there. I said I was a UG graduate and also worked there for a short time.
Further in conversation he revealed that he was well acquainted with Guyana. He said he had been involved in the wholesale purchase of rum from Guyana for his company. He mentioned the name of a well-known company and the production of rum there.
He was impressed with the professionalism and the facilities. He said he enjoyed both his tour of the factory and stay in Guyana. This was during the regime of the late Mr. L.F.S. Burnham. With such detailed information about the times, places and events, I took him seriously.
What he said next in our conversation was revealing. The price negotiated for a gallon of rum was fair, but the person doing the negotiating wanted half of the negotiated price to be deposited into an overseas account. This half-price would be publicly stated as the full price paid. For example, if he paid two British pounds (£2) per gallon of rum, one pound (£1) went as the purchasing price to Guyana and one pound (£1) went into the overseas account.
The gentleman did not mention who was/were the person or persons benefitting from the overseas account, or if the account was then used by the company as a deposit for foreign exchange. He indicated that this kind of scheme was almost standard operating procedure when dealing with corrupt governments and companies.
His wife arrived so the topic of the conversation changed and I was denied the opportunity to ask more questions.
We cannot go back and change what happened or try to hold person(s) responsible for defrauding shareholders and the people of Guyana, but we can learn from the past.
We have raised the issue of non-accountability of grant aid several times (since about 2002) in the media with regards to funds from a European Union (EU) grant to repair and refurbish the biology laboratories at UG. The contractual obligations were never fulfilled, for example, no quality control as evidenced by shoddy workmanship, inferior materials and no value for money.
So far despite the public evidence of corruption, no one was ever held accountable by the University Administration or the Government-controlled University Council. UG is a microcosm of the larger Guyanese society, the contractors, with tacit approval of public officials got away with defrauding our children, youth and all Guyanese.
In addition no further foreign aid was given to UG.
Now the levels of corruption (besides being more systemic, endemic and regarded as normal in the financial dealings of the current administration) have reached new heights of human shamefulness with further degradation and impoverishment of Guyanese.
We have been seeing more and more of the awarding of gifts of land and/or contracts to personal friends of the people in high places of this PPP Government. Curiously, these high profile individuals awarded these distasteful deals have overseas-based offices and some with even questionable professional credentials and expertise.
One therefore wonders if monies are not similarly delivered into overseas accounts for the generous contracts or gifts (‘sweetheart deals’) given to these friends of Guyana’s public officials. Being personal friends of Govt. officials it is easy to understand how some unscrupulous business people would be involved in such questionable practices, since both participants benefit financially.
Now we can understand why high profile and honest legitimate companies are not awarded contracts in Guyana since these companies would not risk involvement in shady deals; whereas, disreputable enterprises get these generous contracts without being held accountable. Why are so many contracts awarded to companies from countries which have corruption-tainted governments, and where no accountability and transparency are required by their laws?
In addition, money can also be invested in overseas businesses where Guyanese officials are the silent partners in various enterprises. During the Burnham PNC reign, we were told by the PPP that gold was leaving Guyana in the diplomatic pouches. We have to ask the PPP whether cash and/or gold are similarly leaving and entering the country. It would be a perfect money laundering scheme.
Guyanese should ask for Govt. officials to declare their overseas assets, or demand the adoption of global schemes like Publish What Your Pay (PYUP) or the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI). Currently, Guyanese officials are often in the USA (New York and Florida – enclaves of these friends of the PPP) and treasure their US visas.
We should wonder about the frequent foreign trips made by Govt. officials. Many PPP politicians and business friends likely have accounts and investments in North America in case their PPP Government collapses and insurrection and circumstances beyond their control make their profitable stays untenable.
We seem to be caught on a treadmill or recurrent nightmare where a few profit and the country and its people disintegrate into poverty, hopelessness and unemployment.
Despite the grandiose announcements of various projects, our people are fleeing to survive. How long do we bend ourselves as the pains of our oppressors are inflicted on us and our children? Should we not end these cycles of punishment by removing the whips from the oppressors’ hands?