Guyana needs a Freedom of Information Act

Dear Editor,
Despite President Jadgeo’s promise last year to have a Freedom of Information Act, this has not yet happened. The refusal to acquiesce to the demand for transparency in governance has demonstrated the PPP’s seeming unwillingness to deal seriously with corruption. While the PPP administration has made public statements about fighting corruption, very little has actually been done.  This is demonstrated in the administration’s dismal record in prosecuting corrupt officials. As such Guyana continues to have a low ranking on Transparency International (TI) corruption perception index.

The inability to get information from government agencies hinders the process of monitoring corruption.  The recent case of the PPP administration’s lack of disclosure regarding the US$15M contract awarded to Synergy Holdings Inc is an example of the administration’s lack of commitment to transparency.

The cronyism that is associated with some public contracts has led to unqualified firms being awarded contracts, resulting in poor and inefficient work. This is evident in the many bad roads, bridges and schools constructed throughout Guyana, which necessitate corrective work having to be done. In addition, poor management of public expenditure due to high instances of corruption will contribute to persistent fiscal deficits. Guyana’s public expenditure is estimated at 58.6 per cent of GDP. With such a high ratio it is important to have transparency laws.

Corruption results in the misuse and abuse of public funds and most studies suggest this has a devastating effect on the poor. It directly affects development, in that it directs resources away from the provision of social goods, limits growth and affects poverty reduction efforts, increasing inequality. Corruption is so entrenched in the Guyanese society that it has taken over all aspects of doing business. Bribery, due to low wages, especially in the public sector, very often is the means by which goods and services are obtained. Again it is the poor who are more affected.

A study published early this year by the Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation shows corruption also curtails economic freedom. In this study Guyana is ranked even lower than Haiti in the world economic freedom index. Corruption deters foreign investment, and an inefficient bureaucracy will create investment bottlenecks. All of this seriously undermines development.

It is for these and other reasons that a Freedom of Information Act is urgently needed, but the opposition must not wait on the PPP to agree to support the bill in the National Assembly. Opposition political parties, the media and civic groups must be vigilant in exposing corruption both in government and in other sectors of society. These entities should have enough connections in important sectors to be able to secure whistle blowers in order to expose corruption.
Yours faithfully,
Dennis Wiggins

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