I visited Guyana last August for the CADVA conference on youth violence, and then again in March, this for the heartrending task of burying my dad. And one thing that became clear during those visits, is that giving and taking bribes is a normal, everyday, routine expectation. Here are some confirming experiences.
On one occasion I was relaxing in a hammock at a certain home, when a car pulled up by the gate, with two men in it – an older African man and a younger Indian man. They came up to the gate and made what seemed to be a joke in quite bad taste. The older man turned out to be a policeman known to the homeowners, and he introduced the younger man as a colleague. They stayed for quite a few minutes and chit-chatted with no apparent aim for their visit. After they departed I was informed that they had come for a ‘raise,’ but left empty-handed, because the older man had been called upon some months earlier, to help out in a particular situation but did not deliver.
A young man whose truck does almost daily trips from the Corentyne to Georgetown, related that almost every day for one week, his truck was stopped by a policeman on the approaches to the Berbice River bridge, and he was cited for having a rider in the cab without seat belt– there were three riders there but only two seat belts. He gave the policeman $5,000 on days one, two and three. On the fourth day, he handed his cell phone to one of the riders and told him to hold the phone so it was visible to the policeman. Then he went up to the policeman and said, “You see that cell phone? I have pictures of you receiving money from me for the past three days. If You ever stop this truck again I will send those photos to newspapers and to your superiors.” That particular policeman never again stopped his truck. A certain businessman had gone to a gathering where he got drunk. On his way driving home he was stopped by a policeman, who, after demanding his licence and registration, told the businessman, “Come to the station tomorrow and collect these documents.” The next day, the sobered-up businessman received a call from station, reminding him to go and collect his documents. Upon his arrival a sum of $20,000 was demanded of him. After forking over the money, he was given his documents and sent home.
My family arrived in Guyana two days after my dad died. The post mortem had already been done and a family friend and my niece’s husband, who had witnessed the post
mortem, were told that the death certificate could be uplifted a few days later. In fact that was not the case, and we went to Whim, then were sent to Port Mourant, then Skeldon, then New Amsterdam, then Whim again. The bottom line is that in spite of our best efforts, we were unable to uplift the death certificate before we returned to New York. After my return, I contacted a minister, a senior Ministry of Health official and a leading lawyer and threatened to go to the media. It was only then that the death certificate was released.
Editor, a villager and family friend had told us after our first unsuccessful attempt to uplift the death certificate, that he could accompany us to get the document, as long as we were willing to pay a bribe. In any case, please note that almost six months after my dad’s death, we still do not have a copy of the post mortem report, which was also denied us. My dad died in an accident at home but a lawyer told us that a senior Ministry of Health official, who had seen the report, indicated that there was foul play. My siblings and I are still agonizing over this as we await a copy of that post mortem report. Will we ever get it? Of course, we’re not prepared to pay a bribe for that either.
Indeed bribery has become the norm in Guyana. And having lived in Guyana under the PNC I can vouch for the fact that while bribery did exist it was not the norm then.