Guyana is continuing on the same corruption trajectory – Letter by Geoffrey Da Silva

Nov. 21, 2021- Letter by Geoffrey Da Silva

Many governments throughout the world experience an increase in corruption as they enter the second year of their 5-year mandate because, by then, those politicians and officials who are intent on wrongdoing have “learnt the ropes” and have become bold and shameless in carrying out illegal activities. This happened from the second year of the APNU / AFC government..

The Kaieteur News and the Stabroek News published many articles and letters about real or possible corruption between 2015 and 2020 such as: [1] the scam at the government-owned asphalt plant at Garden of Eden where some private contractors got huge discounted prices, and a non-existent company from Trinidad and Tobago was paid $9.8 million; [2] at the Ministry of Public Health, 300 truckloads of expired medicine worth GUY $10 Billion had to be dumped; [3] at the Guyana Revenue Authority, some of the major oil importers abused tax exemption letters with the alleged support of some officials; [4] at the Environmental Protection Agency, a 20-year environmental permit was illegally granted to Exxon and the High Court had to  rule that the law only allowed a 5-year permit; [5] large contracts were granted to local an d foreign construction companies that had track records of not completing Government-awarded projects on time and within costs.       
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Da Silva concerned at trajectory of the PPP/C government

The new PPP/C government is now entering its second year and there is great concern that Guyana is continuing on the same track. Here are a few examples. [1] Very senior officials expressed memory oss about the awarding of the huge contracts for the Canje and Kaieteur oil and gas blocks. [2] The beneficial owners of those blocks have not been revealed and the review of the Payara oil project has not been published. [3] A new company, whose owner is related to a very senior official, has been given infrastructure contracts.  [4] Some procurement bids were withdrawn and re-submitted a number of times. [5] Some contracts have been awarded to unqualified persons with political connections. [6] Some political appointees have been hired based mainly on party loyalty and not also on merit, that is, their integrity, ability, talent, effort and achievements.

It is challenging to detect and prove corruption.  Drawing on international experiences, here are some ‘red flags’ that will help us to detect corruption. [1] A purchase order or contract is awarded to a particular supplier or contractor who does not have the experience, the required facilities and resources. [2] Some legal requirements and regulations are bypassed. [3] Goods and services are purchased that are not necessary or appropriate for the institution to successfully function. [4] Goods or services are not delivered or they are substandard. [5] There are no documents to support unusually high fees, commissions and other expenses. [6] The supplier or contractor is urgently requesting advance cash payments. [7] A supplier or contractor wants payments to be made to a person or company other than his or her company. [8] There are close connections or links (through family members, relatives, friends and associates) between a particular official / employee and a supplier or contractor who insists that other staff should not be present in meetings to discuss the contract or purchase order. [9] Some qualified suppliers and contractors are not chosen because of their race / ethnicity, gender, age or class. [10] Expenditures for travel expenses and hospitality are not backed up with receipts and other supporting documents.

All the staff in a public institution, regardless of their responsibilities, have to be trained to detect and resist any kind of wrongdoing in the awarding of contracts and purchase orders. Today, anyone can go on the internet and access free e-learning courses that outline how to resist and minimize corrupt behavior by ensuring that the following procedures are implemented. [1] Before a purchase order or contract is signed, ask questions and check out the supplier or contractor to verify that he/she has a proven track record and also the necessary resources and experience that are required to deliver the goods and services. [2] No single person should have control over which supplier or contractor is chosen. More than one person must be involved in making a decision and in the signing-off of purchase orders and contracts. [3] Regular audits must be done to verify that the appropriate goods and services were received and that they are not sub-standard. [4] All members of a public institution (Board of Directors, Commissions, senior management, supervisors and employees) must report a potential conflict of interest (family, relative, friend or associate) so that they would not participate in the decision-making process. [5] Establish an official register to track any travel, hospitality, gifts, donations and sponsorship received by employees from suppliers and contractors. [6] Create a system to continuously monitor, evaluate, learn from and adjust measures to end bribery and other kinds of corrupt behaviour.

Why should we do this? It is in the self-interest of each one of us and our families. Corruption is one of the most blatant expressions of inequality. Less corruption means that more financial and physical resources would be available for higher wages and other benefits. Secondly, all Guyanese, especially the poor and vulnerable, would benefit from expanded and improved programs in health, education and other services. Thirdly, in the Christian Bible, the Hindu Bhagwat Gita and the Islamic Quran, corrupt practices are strongly condemned. Corruption is a national problem practiced by some politicians and officials, regardless of political party, ethnicity, gender, age or class. No less than the USA Embassy in Georgetown has publicly observed that two of the five major national shortcomings in Guyana are corruption and the weak enforcement of the laws on corruption. Therefore, how come our political leaders are only willing to talk about and act against the corrupt practices of their political competitors but not against their own political associates, friends and their families? How come many political parties and public institutions do not have “living” anti-corruption cultures with clear guidelines and Standard Operating Procedures so that everyone will know what behaviour is acceptable and what is not acceptable?

Leaders at the national regional and local levels, starting from Ministers, Board of Directors, Commissioners, Managers, Supervisors to those at the grassroots, have to avoid hypocrisy and prove that they truly believe in the existing anti-corruption laws by “practicing what they preach” and impose penalties, without fear or favour, when any member of their party or institution, including at the senior levels, practices corruption.  Talking and reporting (whistleblowing) on corruption is acceptable and should become a normal way of doing things. The priority for Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee should be to promote the passage of the existing draft legislation to reward whistleblowers and protect them from unjustified retaliation. The perception of hypocrisy on fighting corruption is a powerful instrument that could make or break a government. It happened in the 2020 elections. In the 2025 national elections, many citizens may not go out and vote. Why? They do not want their votes to be wasted on any political party that would not sanction all corrupt politicians and officials, regardless of their political party allegiance or ethnicity.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey Da Silva
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Geoffrey Da Silva

Bio of Geoffrey Da Silva (Excerpt from Wikipedia)

Cabinet Minister in PPP Government.

Da Silva was appointed to the cabinet of President Bharrat Jagdeo on 19 November 1999, replacing the ailing Michael Shree Chan as minister of trade, tourism and industry.[5] As a participant in the Fourth Annual Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development in 2000, he argued that Caribbean tourism would need to reflect a growing interest in ecotourism.[6] He also promoted sustainable tourism in the ecologically fragile area of Kaieteur and took part in negotiations toward completing a roadway with Brazil.[7] In February 2000, he led an official delegation that met with Prince Charles of the United Kingdom in his official visit to Guyana.[8]

After 2001

Da Silva left cabinet following the 2001 elections and was appointed as head of Guyana Investment.[9] The following year, the Guyana and Caribbean Political and Cultural Center for Popular Education released an essay arguing that he had significantly improved the agency’s ability to attract investors during his time in office.[10]

In 2005, da Silva argued that Guyana was creating jobs by diversifying its economy away from traditional crops such as bauxite and sugar.[11] He helped to organize the Guyana Trade and Investment Exposition in the same year, seeking increased Canadian investment in Guyana.[12] Notwithstanding his leftist political background, da Silva has called for increased private-sector involvement in Guyana’s food packaging industry.[13]

In 2011, da Silva was appointed Ambassador to Venezuela[14] He served until 2015.[15]

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