The President should be as concerned about those who have acquired new wealth as he is about MPs

Dear Editor,
I read the Guyana Chronicle news article ‘MPs assets declaration is a watershed moment for Guyana,’ (January 27), in which President Bharrat Jagdeo reportedly stressed that the rationale for his ultimatum to MPs to declare their assets was to ensure they simply adhered to the law on the matter, but if you ask me, I don’t think even he believes what he said.

The President should be candid and acknowledge that his ultimatum was a direct retaliation against the PNC for asking that government extend the forensic audit being done on Customs officers to include senior government officials. His ultimatum had nothing to do with his desire for all public officials, but especially MPs, to declare their assets in accordance with the law.

It is almost comical to read his new-found concern for upholding the law when it comes to people’s assets, because ever since the PPP returned to power in 1992 we have seen some dramatic changes in certain people’s lifestyles, and not once has the President (since taking office in 1999) gone public ordering these people be audited and probed to determine the sources of their new wealth.

Guyanese are not stupid, for they see and know who have elevated their socioeconomic status from renting to owning, and from riding bikes or taking taxis to owning cars on meagre salaries. They also know of people who don’t work with the government but can be seen living in the lap of luxury for lengthy periods of time. But the government does not care what Guyanese think of the government’s kid gloves treatment of the endemic corruption in government and out of government.

As far as the government is concerned, as long as these corrupt people don’t physically harm or kill anyone like the armed killer gangs, then their crimes are deemed harmless and should only be visited under special circumstances.

Moreover, as long as these people can own new businesses, new houses and new cars, then these assets help present an image of development taking place. No wonder the President, a few years ago, was loud in his praise for the new breed of businessmen in Guyana, because the President is all about trying to present a positive image. He did not seem to be bothered about how these people came by their start-up money.

If he is truly concerned about MPs upholding the law, then he ought to be equally concerned about all owners of new businesses, new luxury houses and new vehicles and the sources of their wealth.

But to blithely ignore this category of new asset owners, and possible money launderers and tax evaders, and go with an iron fist after MPs with fear-instilling ultimatums, should raise questions in the minds of every Guyanese.

I am not, for one moment, saying that MPs should not declare their assets in accordance with the law. As lawmakers, they ought to be setting the example at all times. However, when we carefully consider the fact that the main parliamentary opposition (PNC) filed a brief with the court questioning the constitutionality of the Integrity Commission’s members, then until and unless the court makes a public statement on the disposition of that brief, the Integrity Commission is in limbo.

We are learning now that the acting Chairman of the Commission, Fazeel Ferouz, (head of the Central Islamic Organization of Guyana), recently accompanied the President on a government trip to the Middle East. As acting head of the Integrity Commission and, therefore, a neutral party on government matters, how can this not rise to the level of a conflict of interest for him to be accompanying the President on government business? What exactly is the relationship between him and the PPP or even the CIOG and the PPP?

And just as I could not fathom the rationale for appointing retired Colonel Chabilall Ramsarup as the head of the CTA in 2007, and on whose watch the Polar Beer scandal exploded, I cannot fathom how he could be suddenly transferred back to his old job at the Civil Defence Commission. Is this how the President rewards those he likes and on whose watch this type of corruption takes place? With this Jagdeo-led government we somehow always end up with more questions than enough answers, and while it loves to extol the virtues of the law, it has been found wanting on so many occasions when it comes to ensuring it is in strict compliance with the rule of law.
Yours faithfully,
Emile Mervin

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