How exactly is Ralph Ramkarran going to change anything? Like Moses Nagamootoo, he stood silent or silently accepted the travesties of his own party for the sake of party paramountcy and burying dirty secrets. He allowed himself to be compromised by standing silent in the face of egregious venality. He did not speak. He did not call any of his errant colleagues to account. He stood idly by and watched as his government squeezed poor people with the VAT to grab more of their money in taxes and then give a lot of it to an elite set of beneficiaries who mostly happened to be friends, party friends and members and other sycophants. How could Ramkarran come here and talk about ending extreme poverty when his party and government has further impoverished people by taking even more of their hard earned money and wasting or corrupting it away or enriching who they like. Where was Ramkarran when the narco-sultans rose like a flood in this nation to control a major portion of the nation’s economy and drive fear and gorge on corruption in this nation? Ramkarran’s government has failed to create any legitimate viable economic growth and Ramkarran was part and parcel of the Group of 15 making all the major decisions of this nation, so what is the plan to end extreme poverty? I want details not more hot air. How will extreme poverty be ended in an environment of zero or minuscule legitimate growth and burdensome taxation leaving nothing of substance in poor people’s hands? Mr. Ramkarran is unlikely to find new blood as he will surround himself with the same failures. Expect nothing different. Silence in the face of terrible outrages against the nation and its people is a disqualification to leadership.
The development of Amerindian communities, infrastructure and alternative power is nothing but vote buying. The real issue is the corruption cost associated with this ‘development’. For every dollar spent in Amerindian communities, how much was lost to corruption, waste and the other plethora of wrongs. How much of these contracts were actually given to the Amerindian people so they earned the income themselves and not some big shot contractor who builds a road in their community for it to be washed away in the rainy season to be built again and again every year in the face of complaints from the community? I commend Ramkarran on his commitment to ending violence and various abuses against women and children, an area where the PPP has made significant strides.
For Ramkarran to blame the PPP’s failures on crime and corruption on “intense criminal terrorism’ in the decade since 1997 is politicking. Ramkarran said reforms were stalled because of the crime wave. Isn’t a crime wave exactly the right time to implement reforms? Would Mr. Ramkarran explain the rise of Roger Khan and the drug cartels and kingpins under the PPP’s watch? I guess that phenomenon had nothing to do with this crime wave. What about the drug cartels and arms smugglers bringing in guns freely into the country, was that an act of terrorism? Were the extrajudicial killings of hundreds of Guyanese intense criminal terrorism? How could a man wanting the Presidency be so dismissive of such a potent problem and not admit that criminal gangs and drug cartels were both part of the problem. The drug cartels have been the biggest criminal scourge in this nation, spawning and arming a lot of the criminal gangs in this nation. The biggest reform to allow the DEA and other foreign anti-drug bodies into Guyana never happened under Mr. Ramkarran’s PPP watch. The biggest, most powerful and most dominant criminal force in the decade since 1997 was the drug cartels. That is where a lot of the problems of this nation related to crime stemmed from. Patrolling the borders is not the problem as Mr. Ramkarran would like us to believe. The government knows who the drug kingpins are but they are for some reason not prosecuted in Guyana. Two of them in Peter Morgan and Roger Khan confessed without trial in the USA and were convicted. Are you telling me that the government did not know these individuals were involved in drugs while the USA had this information? Pouring money into fighting petty crime while criminal overlords walk freely is a band-aid solution. The USA is willing to give more funds but only if it gets boots on the ground to see how those funds are spent. Why should the USA give Guyana millions every year and be denied the presence of its anti-drug forces operating in Guyana?
Ramkarran’s suggestion for a structural approach to confronting corruption by establishing the Public Procurement Commission and Freedom of Information legislation is great in theory but will not yield any viable results in practice. That will not change corruption. It will only enable another bureaucracy of government appointees to push on a string. Mr. Ramkarran, there is more corruption now because there is another major source of corruption that was never so powerfully present under the PNC: the drug economy, which accounts for a major portion of Guyana’s economic activity. Drug cartels actively corrupt this nation from money laundering to corporate takeovers. Compliance is easily bought and almost everyone has a price.
In addition to the drug economy, the PPP has collected more taxes than ever before in the history of this nation. Over the course of the past 18 years, it has collected in revenues at least double what the PNC ever collected in its entire 28 years of power. Plus, the PPP has plans to collect even more in the coming years. In addition, the PPP has borrowed by most estimates some US$1.6 billion in debt. At this rate, it will borrow more than the PNC in 28 years. Critically, a lot of that money was borrowed locally where the underground economy was the main driver of economic activity since 1992. Maybe some of that money is eventually owed to individuals with links to nefarious activities who bank their billions in local banks. Remittances have never been higher since 1992. Finally, the PPP has improved the legitimate sectors of the economy in every area earning revenues and creating more money for expenditure and by extension for corruption.
Put all together, there is legitimate and illegal cash flowing into this nation like never before. More money and less anti-corruption measures have created a perfect storm for corruption on a scale never seen before. It is evident in the level of spending by those who profit from it. Even if corruption is the same level as it was under the PNC, the fact that more money is available to the corrupt now than ever before means there will be more corruption as there are more sources with more money than ever before. Mr. Ramkarran needs to get it right. Increased expenditure has resulted in increased corruption, not increased attempts at corruption.
The claimed independence of the Auditor General’s office is illusory as its warnings often go unheeded. Same goes for the Public Accounts Committee. The free and independent press has complained bitterly and we still get the litany of broken bridges, washed away roads, exorbitant contracts and overcharging for hostels, hospitals, etc. Complaints are aplenty but action is sorely lacking. That is the problem and Mr. Ramkarran is part and parcel of it as long as he remains part of the PPP. Not one major official has been publicly charged and convicted of corruption. We have had a few suspensions and removals but only when the straws repeatedly broke the camel’s back and the dirty laundry was aired incessantly in public. Those who have built mansions and are driving extraordinary rides on basic salaries are seemingly untouched. So for Mr. Ramkarran to tell this nation that his conscience is clear that he did what was in his powers to combat corruption is nothing but a frank admission of failure. He then attempts to shift the blame on the government. Well, he played a role in electing the government. For he also had the power as a member of the Executive Committee of the PPP and the Speaker of the House to do more. He also had the moral route to speak out valiantly against corruption within the PPP ranks, government and general society. He also had the power to propose other avenues to fight corruption by creating various forces. He did not.
This process of internal democracy within the PPP Mr. Ramkarran speaks of is a travesty. When carefully selected delegates to a congress are all expected to bark the same way in unison, there is no democracy. I can bet if the list of delegates to the congress is reviewed, 75% of those names are virtually unchanged over the past three congresses. That is selective democracy and selective democracy produces selective results and intended consequences. Similarly, those delegates elect essentially the same slate for the Central Committee over and over again. That Central Committee list probably has been about 70% unchanged in the past three congresses. Same with the Executive Committee. So, how is this really democracy when a bunch of self-interested men can dictate the voting patterns of an entire party representing 184,000 voters? At the end of the day, my biggest problem with men like Ramkarran and Nagamootoo is the silence of these men in the face of wrongdoing amongst their own. Talk is cheap Mr. Ramkarran.