Presentation to the Berbice Chamber of Commerce on corruption

The following is a presentation last week by Anand Goolsarran, a Vice President of the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. (TIGI), to the Berbice Chamber of Commerce. Although the event was not well attended, it was nevertheless a start by TIGI to engage in out-reach programmes to sensitise the public to its work.

We are here to sensitise you about our work and to enlist your support. We are aware that Berbice has its own problems and we are meeting with you in a genuine effort to forge a partnership in the best interest of the country. We are also aware that you may come from different political backgrounds and we appreciate this. However, we are not a political body. We have no affiliation to any political party. We speak up as part of civil society on issues relating to good governance, transparency and accountability. We do so in the public interest.

Invariably, our work takes us to a situation where out of necessity we may be critical about the work of the government of the day. I emphasise the word “government of the day” because, if tomorrow there is a change in government, our outlook and approach will not change. We are indifferent as to who is in power. Because of the very nature of our work, there will always be support from the political Opposition. We, however, have no political ambitions.
We are not anti-government as some people would like to label us. We are willing to sit down with government officials to discuss issues in the sincere hope that our country eventually becomes corruption free; democratic values are upheld; there is adherence to the laws and the constitution of this country; and there is a high degree of transparency and accountability.
TIGI’s first annual fundraising dinner was well attended and the private sector in Georgetown came out in full support of us. Our guest speaker, Mr. Deryck Murray, Chairman of the Trinidad Chapter of Transparency International, was at his best when he declared that “Corruption can affect the soul of the nation”.

What is corruption?

The word “corruption” comes from the Latin word “corrupere” meaning “mar, bribe, or destroy”. It is about the impairment of integrity, virtue or moral principle. It is about depravity, decay, decomposition and an inducement to wrong by improper or unlawful means. It is about dishonest or fraudulent conduct by those in power, typically involving bribery. It is about the action of making someone or something morally depraved or the state of being so.

Grand corruption occurs at the highest levels of government in a way that requires significant subversion of political, legal and economic systems. Such corruption is commonly found in countries with authoritarian or dictatorial governments and those without adequate policing of corruption by anti-corruption agencies. Systemic (or endemic) corruption is corruption that is primarily due to the weaknesses of an organization or process. Political corruption, on the other hand, is the abuse of power, office or resources by elected government officials for personal gain e.g. by extortion, soliciting or offering bribes.

Transparency International’s official definition of corruption comes very close to the last:
Corruption is the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. It hurts everyone who depends on the integrity of people in a position of authority.

An abuse of public power occurs where, in the exercise of their duties, politicians and bureaucrats deviate from formal rules or established procedures for their personal gain, and in doing so, the public interest is sacrificed in favour of their private interest. Prof. Lambsdorff asserts that the self-seeking behaviour of politicians and bureaucrats is interpreted as corrupt behaviour when it is accompanied by the blunt neglect of the expectations and interest of the public.

Corruption tends to be more prevalent in capital projects where large sums are involved, where fewer transactions take place, and where the risk of being caught is less. A corrupt official would also prefer to acquire specialized products that are capital intensive, sophisticated and custom-built rather than off-the-shelf products where prices are generally not known. The famous example was a bottle-labelling machine that was bought in Mozambique at several times the price of another machine that could have done an equally efficient job, allegedly due to kickbacks.

Specifications of goods and services can be framed in such a manner as to place a favoured contractor in a position of advantage vis-à-vis other competitors. This as well as insider information such as details of other competitors’ bids and the Engineer’s Estimate can be leaked to the preferred contractor, while the actual assessment of bids can be biased in favour of him/her. Sometimes this corrupt behaviour takes place with the tacit knowledge and support of the government of the day in an attempt to patronize its supporters and close associates.

When bribes are paid to win an award of, for example, a road contract, the contractor has to find some way of recouping his/her costs. Invariably, this is done by executing the works below the required specifications or by substituting inferior material. Instead of placing four inches of bitumen as the top layer on a road, the contractor may place two inches. The result is that within six months, the road begins to deteriorate.

The absence of competitive bidding and the practice of sole sourcing are also a cause for major concern. Since there are no competitive prices, the value of the contract tends to be inflated and the difference kicked back as bribes.

How does corruption affect society?
Goods and services become more costly, thereby impacting negatively on the quality of life and standard of living of citizens. Trade is distorted since preference is given to goods and services that offer the greatest bribes. Capital programmes, especially infrastructure works, are given preference to those relating to basic health care, education delivery, agriculture, housing, among others. Because of this, corrupt governments tend to contract high levels of long-term debt since financing is usually from loans from international funding agencies.

Investor confidence is also shaken, and countries in dire need of foreign investment are deprived of it. International flow of goods, services and capital is also affected, and investment ratios deteriorate. High levels of corruption are associated with low ratio of investment to GDP, low foreign inflows of direct investment, and low levels of capital inflows.

There is a tendency for professionals and decent-minded citizens to migrate to more developed countries to seek employment opportunities and a better way of life for themselves and their families. There is therefore a brain drain with the concomitant spiraling effect of not having the relevant skills to effectively manage the operations of not only government but also private sector organizations.  High levels of corruption result in the perpetuation of weak governments and less than the desired level of delivery of public services. It also results in sub-optimal performance in the private sector.

What role can you play?
To every act of corruption, there is the corruptor and the corrupted. Say “no” to corruption. This is easier said than done, especially if we live in a society where nothing happens unless a bribe is offered. But we must have the moral courage to say “no” with the full knowledge that such action is likely to have repercussions and will negatively impact on our businesses.

A wrong is nevertheless a wrong, and if all of us speak out collectively, and we collectively give a resounding “no” to corruption, it will make a difference, perhaps not in the short-term. We would have started a movement, indeed a crusade, aimed at eradicating corruption. But if only a few businessmen choose to go this route, corrupt behaviour will not cease. The greatest obstacle to fighting corruption is the fear factor and self-interest. However, we must overcome them. We must support whistleblower protection legislation to protect those who are morally and ethically strong to report acts of corruption.

We must demand that the government takes urgent measures to:

●  Appoint members of the Integrity Commission who are competent and independent enough to scrutinize the financial disclosures of politicians and bureaucrats;
● Appoint members of the Public Procurement Commission to oversee government procurement and to minimize government’s involvement in public procurement;
●  Appoint an Ombudsman to address grievances from members of the public;
●  Re-activate the Public Service Appellate Tribunal so that public servants who feel that they are unfairly treated can have their concerns addressed;
●  Ensure that all public moneys are placed to the credit of the Consolidated Fund, and no public expenditure is incurred without Parliamentary approval;
●  Ensure that all appointments to public offices are advertised and are made with due regard to technical competence;
●  Restrict the use of contracted employees and ensure a strong, vibrant, efficient, effective and professional public service is in place;
●  Ensure that the Freedom of Information Act is passed;
●  Encourage a free, independent and vibrant media, and restrict the operations of State media; and
●  Professionalize the Police Force.

Finally, we ask you to team up with TIGI in its efforts to promote good governance, transparency and greater accountability.

Around the Web