The PPP government is reluctant to do anything about corruption due to its link with three discrete groups who finance the party’s leadership and fuel graft including a group of wealthy and influential businessmen with high political connections who profit from insider information, according to former PPP stalwart Ralph Ramkarran.
“It is now clear that the adamancy of the government and the PPP in refusing to acknowledge the level of corruption in the society, and to do something about it, is linked to where the corruption is located,” Ramkarran said in his column in the Sunday Stabroek in what was his most withering attack to date on the party of which he was a member for nearly 50 years and from which he resigned last year following his stance on corruption.
Ramkarran’s statements were yesterday endorsed by the local transparency watchdog, Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI) as well as former PPP executive and now leader of the Alliance for Change, Khemraj Ramjattan who had also spoken out about the absence of transparency in the PPP government prior to his departure from the party.
“The section of the corrupt petit bourgeoisie that Mr. Ramkarran describes is increasingly highly visible in society operating with a certain brazenness and confident immunity from prosecution,” TIGI President, Gino Persaud said in a statement to Stabroek News yesterday. “The value of Mr. Ramkarran’s public position on corruption is that it has emanated from possibly the last icon of integrity in the PPP who served for many years on the highest governance committee of the party – its Executive Committee. Coming from him it adds value to the national conversation on corruption since it serves to keep corruption issues on the front burner and makes the scourge more difficult to ignore,” he added.
Ramkarran, a former Speaker of the National Assembly, quit the party last year after his persistent claims that the PPP/C was not doing anything about corruption, caused a rift. He has since then kept up a barrage of criticisms which analysts say is aimed at trying to produce fundamental change in the party. A key congress of the PPP/C is set for August at which pivotal issues are likely to be on the agenda in the wake of the party’s loss of its parliamentary majority in the 2011 elections.
Ramjattan yesterday commended Ramkarran for speaking out. “This is brilliant analysis bluntly put about what the PPP has come to. The party now reeks of insider information and trading to the benefit of friends, family and favorites. But all of this started in early 2000s when the operationalization of the Procurement Commission was shelved for a Procurement Act in which the PPP politicos would be in control of,” he told Stabroek News.
In his column, Ramkarran said that Guyana “will soon qualify as The Kleptocratic Republic of Guyana.” He said that three groups support and finance the PPP leadership and state decisions are influenced by their interests.
“Above all of these is a group of wealthy and influential businessmen who have high political connections. They meet regularly to examine business opportunities and potential deals and map out strategies as to how their plans can go forward, and implement those plans. They have access, through their political connections, to information of the potential opportunities that are likely to emerge in the near to medium term and are in a position to make the investments now so as to cash in on those opportunities down the road,” he said.
This argument about the grip of oligarchs on the PPP/C administration has been made by others before including economist Tarron Khemraj. A series of sectors and decisions have been cited including the apportioning of radio licences, divestment of state assets and the construction of the intended Marriott- managed hotel in Kingston.
Ramkarran identified the two other groups in the triumvirate fuelling corruption as contractors for state projects and bureaucrats in the public sector. He said that while it is not known what percentage of roads, bridges, buildings and other infrastructure works are badly done, the complaints are plentiful.
“And it is not merely that the contractors are dishonest. They tell you openly that if they have to bribe so many officials, then there is not enough to spend on the works to complete them in accordance with the contracts and to make a profit for themselves at the same time. Of course, they willingly collaborate with this state of affairs. This situation is a direct result of the failure of the PPP to build on the work of (the later former president) Cheddi Jagan and to deal with corruption. Many of these contractors, businessmen and suppliers of goods and services have close links with the PPP, including members of the leadership,” Ramkarran said.
He hastened to state that there are many amongst them who are honest and doing their job but a key section has been co-opted to participate in the corruption and the enriching of the select few. He also noted that many bureaucrats are dedicated and honest.
“But many others are corrupt. These bureaucrats are usually in charge of funds, contracts, supplies and they easily manoeuvre around the regulations to enable them to perpetrate their corrupt deeds. They utilize their positions to manipulate contracts so that the rewards go to them directly or through surrogates. They establish companies with their friends or relatives and steer the contracts to these companies. This is a well-known practice that is widely engaged in. They also have friends in the party leadership or access thereto,” Ramkarran charged.
“The PPP leadership is supported and financed by all of these groups and state decisions are influenced by their interests. The PPP is no longer motivated by working class ideology although it still clings to its historical connections,” Ramkarran said.
“The reason why the Public Procurement Commission, a vital instrument in the struggle against corruption, will never be established is that the PPP is a political organization that now represents a section of the petit bourgeoisie, those three parts of which are described above, whose interests are antagonistic to those of the working class and
conflict with acceptable standards of integrity,” the Senior Counsel declared.
In his column, Ramkarran had noted that since the last elections several revelations have emerged of corrupt, and even potentially criminal, activities by persons currently or previously associated with the PPP and who have friends in the leadership or access thereto. “Corruption has become so pervasive that it is no longer possible to keep the evidence away from the press and the police. And most important, none of them have come to light as a result of any action initiated by the government without prior exposure,” he said adding that it is now clear that the adamancy of the government and the PPP in refusing to acknowledge the level of corruption in the society, and to do something about it, is linked to where the corruption is located.
“It is not known whether government spokespersons are still so blind about corruption that they are still asking, where is the evidence? Guyana will soon qualify as The Kleptocratic Republic of Guyana,” he said.
He also emphasized that there are thousands of public servants, businessmen, contractors and others who perform services of a high quality with dedication and integrity and in any discussion on the issue of corruption they must always be acknowledged.
TIGI’s Persaud said that Ramkarran’s position is one that very few right thinking members of society disagree with, if at all, save perhaps those with an interest to serve. “His position supports TIGI’s position that the perception of corruption in Guyana is seriously high. Recently, TIGI and the PSC (Private Sector Commission) in a joint statement pointed out that that the perception of corruption of Guyana is too important to be ignored and negatively impacts on business and investment,” he recalled.
“TIGI’s position is that institutional weaknesses coupled with lack of political will provide fertile ground for corruption. This is reflected in the non-existence of an Integrity Commission and Public Procurement Commission. The Access to Information Act has been watered down and though passed in Parliament has still not been brought into effect. The Judicial Review Act is still not operational. We’ve had no prosecutions and convictions for money laundering and serious corruption,” he said.
Persaud added that more right thinking members of society need to speak out against corruption and support TIGI. “This is necessary since organisations such as ours whose mandate is anti-corruption are constantly attacked as anti-government and its directors and members subjected to all kinds of malicious attacks, victimisation and character assassination from the pro government media and anonymous blogs. The burden of anti-corruption efforts should not rest on a few shoulders,” he asserted.
Ramjattan, meanwhile, said that the former Speaker’s recent commentaries on the parlous state of affairs which Guyana is in since the late former president Cheddi Jagan’s death, as a result of his former party’s corrupt and inept stewardship must be commended. “His courage, though not new-found, because I have always known him to bravely say it as it is, is now coming out very public. And that is a good thing from an important personage as one so previously prominent in the PPP,” Ramjattan stated.
The AFC leader recalled that when prior to being expelled from the PPP, he had wanted more of the upper echelons to “crack the back of democratic centralism” and “this unbearable control-freakism” exhibited by the leadership of former President Bharrat Jagdeo and current President Donald Ramotar who was General Secretary of the PPP then. “There was then the massive need to democratize the party and to question authority, and to inculcate in the cadres a legitimate and healthy skepticism about government, leaders, and institutions generally,” he said. “But a number of big players who were in agreement behind closed doors that such a transformation was needed just played it safe and clammed up, not wanting to say anything public. Many expressed the view that the timing was not right”.
Ramjattan said that he hopes that others at the PPP’s upcoming Congress will be as brave as Ramkarran and come out openly. “These developments are never too late,” he stated.
He observed that apart from showing bravery, there is a new-found bluntness about how Ramkarran is speaking. “Internally he was known for his diplomacy concerning matters critical of the PPP,” he recalled. What passes for governance today “stinks to high heavens,” Ramjattan said.
“What Ralph has done by these commentaries will do good for the reform-minded faction in the PPP, whatever is left of it. These full and frank disclosures should be celebrated,” he asserted.