Some of the biggest financial losses to the nation arising out of corrupt practices are widely believed to occur in the processes associated with the award of state contracts to private contractors for the execution of important infrastructural works and the supply of various types of goods and services. Corrupt practices in service delivery procedures are not unique to Guyana. Elsewhere, particularly in developing countries, reports like the Global Corruption Index have documented the shocking extent of corruption associated with private sector execution of state contracts. Funding provided by multilateral lending agencies has also disappeared down black holes of corruption, particularly in developing countries, forcing the agencies, in some instances, to impose their own sanctions against contractors and, sometimes, against their own consultants implicated in corrupt practices.
Here in Guyana corrupt practices are widely believed to be firmly embedded in the administering of state contracts. In recent remarks Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud openly alluded to suspected cases – in his own ministry – of corrupt practices, associated attempts to bribe public officers, failure to deliver contracts to agreed specifications and attempts to interfere with monitoring procedures. The recently released 2008 Report of the Auditor General also details some questionable goings-on in the ministerial tender process. It notes, for example, that in the case of the Ministry of Education, tenders were awarded in circumstances where there was no evidence that the ministerial tender board met during the year under review. According to the report, there was no way of determining the basis of contract awards in matters requiring the adjudication of the board. “As a result, the basis of award for matters requiring MTB (Ministerial Tender Board) adjudication could not be determined,” the report said. Then there is the carefully documented case of a slew of irregularities in procurement procedures designed, it appears, to facilitate a particular supplier in Region Four and which, one suspects, would also have benefited the regional functionary or functionaries responsible for administering the transaction.
Minister Persaud’s remarks were clearly meant to serve as a direct warning to contractors who are about to embark on the execution of $381 million worth of contracts for his ministry. By implication, however, he declared that he was speaking for the entire administration, pointing out, “we are tired of the reports and the perception that government and government agencies are condoning these practices.” The minister is correct. There does indeed exist, a widespread perception that the government is easy with these “practices.” That perception derives from what is felt to be an official indifference to persistent reports of widespread irregularities in procedures associated with the awarding of contracts like those detailed in the aforementioned examples culled from the Auditor General’s 2008 Report.
It ought, therefore, to come as no surprise to Minister Persaud if his remarks do not secure the kind of traction which he presumably hopes they would since people are bound to point to what they see as a huge gap between the large number of reports of seeming irregularities documented in the Auditor General’s reports for example, and the number of investigations that have derived from those reports. In other words, the public perception “that government and government agencies are condoning these practices” will persist in the absence of persuasive evidence to the contrary.
If it is that the minister’s threat to blacklist contractors who seek to bribe public officers and who deliver sub-standard work and to take legal action against both contractors and public officers caught corrupting the contract award process is a serious signal that government is now ready to read a riot act against these practices, then his pronouncement must be followed with hard and visible evidence of a preparedness to stamp out the practice. Such action must also be taken in a manner as to remove existing strong suspicions of cover up in those instances of suspected fraud and corruption that might involve friends of the administration and which are believed to be swept under the carpet in order to limit the damage to the government. Otherwise, the government will continue to have to live with the public “perception” that it is “condoning” these corrupt practices and remarks like those made by Minister Persaud recently, however well-intentioned, are unlikely to cut through the attendant thick mist of dismissive cynicism that usually attends such utterances.