Despite a new methodology and scoring system, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) has once again given Guyana an extremely low mark (28 out of 100 points) on its annual report card. As dispiriting as this score is, it will have come as no surprise to most citizens.

Despite early signs that President Donald Ramotar appeared to be concerned about corruption in the country, he has done little, apart from condemning corruption in the Police Force at the Annual Police Officers’ Conference in March, to tackle vigorously the perceptions of corruption tainting the public service and his party’s record in office.

In his insightful analysis of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the challenges facing it, former PPP grandee Ralph Ramkarran states categorically that “[T]he allegations of corruption and lack of transparency in the country remain one of the major weaknesses that the Party has failed to confront. There is now some reluctant admission that corruption exists. Unless institutional and legal measures follow these admissions, this would be a major, continuing source of disappointment among Party supporters.” He could just as easily have said that the government’s failure to confront corruption has been a major, continuing source of disappointment among Guyanese as a whole.

The 2012 CPI has Guyana one place up from last year’s ranking, at joint 133rd out of 176 countries, alongside Comoros, Honduras, Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia, and just below Nicaragua with a score of 29. Among Latin American and Caribbean countries, Guyana bettered only Paraguay, with a score of 25, Haiti – seemingly perpetually on the brink of failure as a state – and Venezuela, both registering 19 and coming 165th. We are at the bottom of the rankings of the English-speaking Caribbean and in very poor company generally.

On the other hand, our sister Caricom state Barbados scored a hugely impressive 76, placing 15th, while Chile and Uruguay were joint 20th, and The Bahamas, St Lucia, Puerto Rico, St Vincent, Dominica and Costa Rica were all in the top 50. For these regional countries, perceived to be among the most transparent and accountable in the world, there must be a measure of satisfaction, even as, one imagines, there is a determination on the part of their governments, private sector and civil society, to build on the positive assessments to improve their profiles as trading partners and as destinations for investment and tourism.

For other countries in the region with major developmental ambitions, which scored less than 50 though still ranking above Guyana, such as Trinidad and Tobago (score: 39; rank 80th), El Salvador, Jamaica and Panama (all 38 and joint 83rd), Suriname (37 and 88th) and the Dominican Republic (32 and 118th),  the CPI ought to be something of a wake-up call. For where corruption is perceived to be a serious problem, it is an inhibitor of development and society pays a high cost.

The Transparency Institute Guyana Inc (TIGI) has accordingly called for action in key areas, including, “the urgent appointment of an Integrity Commission, with members who are competent and independent enough to scrutinize the financial disclosures of politicians and bureaucrats and with adequate staffing and resources”; “the urgent appointment of members of the Public Procurement Commission to provide independent oversight of public procurement and to minimize government’s involvement in the process”; the strengthening of existing anti-corruption institutions, such as the Guyana Police Force and the Financial Intelligence Unit established under the anti-money laundering legislation; and the appointment of an Ombudsman to address grievances from members of the public.

TIGI has also urged the implementation of modern anti-corruption and whistle-blowing legislation, as well as laws to regulate election campaign financing, and has also called for all public moneys to be placed in the Consolidated Fund and for no public expenditure to be incurred without parliamentary approval. In addition, appointments to public office should be advertised and made with due regard to technical competence, and the Access to Information Act should be made operational.

Politics is, to a certain extent, about listening to the various voices in a country and seeking to act in the best interests of all with a view to moving the country forward. Leadership is, by and large, about being courageous enough to face up to the greatest challenges in order to take decisions, often unpalatable to some, and to ensure their enforcement. Combating corruption in Guyana requires political leadership of the highest calibre and we look to the President and the Parliament to show their mettle.

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