The private sector and the Auditor General’s Report

The manner in which the state does business with the private sector is one of the recurring themes in the annual reports of the Auditor General. By far, the most lucrative contracts for goods and services including those that have to do with the building of roads, schools and bridges, the maintenance of property and the supply of drugs for the health system, books for schools and such other requirements as may arise from time to time, are under the control of the government.There are rules governing the administration of these processes, rules of Tender that set out procedures for assigning state contracts to the private sector.Most of what the Auditor General usually has to say about the manner in which contracts are awarded is not complimentary. For example, there are these ill-explained cases of private contractors of one sort or another being overpaid; being paid monies to the full extent of the contract even before the commencement of the contract and the cynical manipulation of Tender procedures in a manner that sets aside the rules of Tender.The Auditor General, of course, rarely ever sets down on paper definitive conclusions regarding what these departures from procedure might mean though it is not difficult in quite a few instances to detect flagrantly corrupt practices that involve collusion between well-placed government officials and private contractors to steal from the public purse.Invariably, there is no consequence for these unlawful acts. They ‘roll over’ from one year to the next and every year millions of our tax dollars disappear down black holes of graft and corruption. It is the Auditor General’s role to enlighten rather than to prosecute. It is the role of the National Assembly to take these matters further, to seek to have both state officials and private contractors account for the annual disappearance of millions of dollars of public funds. That, too, never happens though it can now be argued that given their single seat majority in Parliament the opposition political parties have no excuse for not holding government to account for the manner in which public funds are spent.One may well ask as well whether there is not a role here for the various private sector bodies – like the Private Sector Commission, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and the various Regional Chambers, the Guyana Manufacturers Association, the Guyana Association of Professional Engineers and the various other private sector bodies. Granted, many of the contractors who do business with government possess political rather than professional connections. That still does not say, however, that the various business and professional bodies which presumably get to know of the Auditor General’s revelations cannot raise their voices against these malpractices. After all, organizations like the Private Sector Commission are usually pretty glib in making pronouncements on other matters which are germane to their interests.By the same token why is there usually such patent official indifference to those cases cited in the Auditor General’s Report in which complicity in procedures that reek of suspicion can be narrowed down to particular individuals who, year after year, escape without even so much as a rap on the knuckles.On those occasions, when private sector officials agree to speak (off the record, of course) about these issues, they tend to blame the government; their point being that unless you go along with one dirty deal or another you tend to get cut out of the loop and your business suffers. Apart from the fact that no one is under any compulsion to become part of any shady deal, the business houses may just wish to remind themselves that the ensuing rip off sometimes tears a great big hole in the very heart of the society and that the task of repairing the damage almost invariably has to be undertaken by the taxpayer.