Guyana: Thieving and Corruption Now Part of National Culture – By Ralph Ramkarran

– By Ralph Ramkarran – Conversation Tree Blog

(On behalf of this blog and its readers, I extend to President Granger best wishes for a speedy recovery).

Ralph Ramkarran

Firemen are first responders who are required to help and protect victims and their property. While purporting to do so, many fireman seize the opportunity to steal from victims. The stealing of property by firemen from the Fly Jamaica aircraft which had mechanical problems and landed with some difficulty at the CJIA, is a shameless and sickening disgrace. It was far more extensive than has been reported.   

In the past, burglars invaded my late parents’ home and stole a number of items. Four or five policemen came to investigate and as they were leaving, one of them swiped my father’s wristwatch from a table. Some years later, firemen entered the Cameron & Shepherd building in Avenue of the Republic, where I then worked and sill do. The top floor was on fire. After they left, all movable objects of value that could be fetched out had vanished. Long before then, criminal activity by members of the disciplined forces and corruption in the society had been simmering and growing. Corruption by prison officers has reached alarming proportions. Little of consequence was done by successive governments to stop the slide. The result is that it has now escalated by leaps and bounds throughout the country. Thieving and corruption are now part of the national culture. It includes murder in the course of robbery and paid killings, including by members of the disciplined forces.

While corruption has always been present, the origin in its extent and current forms can be traced to the breakdown of our society in the 1970s and 1980s. Two factors influenced this trend, namely, rigged elections and economic disintegration. Later, in the 1990s, government spending on infrastructure rapidly increased from $2 billion to $20 billion a year, providing the basis for a rapid escalation, particularly in procurement and related areas. Soon, it engulfed every area of activity and spread its gnarled tentacles to every aspect of government and business activity. Nothing was done to stop it. The Government denied corruption, or its extent. Those who spoke up were sanctioned or victimized. I am a living example.

In an address at a book launching in May this year, President Granger minimized corruption in Government, but sought to maximize it in the private sector. He described corruption in government as “a few crooked cops or revenue clerks who stretch their hands out for bribes.” The President did not say that this was the only corruption in government that occurs. But by characterizing it in this manner, he certainly created the impression that he thinks that it is minimal. This is not very far from the PPP/C Government’s refrain when denying corruption or its extent, to challenge anyone who spoke out to “prove it.”

The President blamed the private sector for much of the corruption. He identified corrupt activities by the private sector as “bribery, contraband smuggling, clientelism, cronyism, fraud, graft, nepotism,….traffickers, gun-runners, money launderers,…..builders of fuel smuggling vessels, conspirators of importers and exporters of illegal drugs at unmonitored airstrips, gold and diamond smugglers, backtrackers and dodgers of NIS and Income Tax payments.” In much of this corruption, a government official or agency is the other party who benefits from it. The President indicated that the “antidote” for corruption in government is good governance, accountability and transparency, effective government policy, a regulatory framework, political stability and representative democracy and strong institutions such as the Public Procurement Commission, Integrity Commission and the Public Service Commission.  Where implemented, these policies have not been effective. In the meantime numerous incidents of corruption or bad governance and lack of transparency in government have been proven and remain unanswered. Government members and officers have shown contempt for the Integrity Commission.

The increasing instances of bad governance exposed in the Auditor General’s reports, Guyana’s low ranking on Transparency International, the exposure of instances of corruption and/or bad governance and/or lack of transparency that have already been exposed, are all the evidence that is needed for proof that corruption is rife and is being tolerated. While this goes on, the small man – including firemen, other members of the disciplined services – will continue to struggle to become a real man, at other people’s expense.

Guyanese may want to know if this awful stench of corruption, which most struggle to keep their nose above, is the state in which we will enter the oil era. Many institutions, including recently the World Bank, have warned in detail about the types of corruption to guard against in the oil industry. Former Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Ms. Kamla Persaud-Bissessar has also warned about it. Unless serious steps are taken, Guyanese are doomed to live in an oil producing country, in which a substantial portion of our oil revenue will be lost to corruption. It will be led by those in high and not so high places, in the private and public sectors. Like in so many countries that we read about where, despite oil, the Guyanese poor will be at the receiving end, and remain poor.

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