Nearly thirty years ago I asked a hinterland villager, who had sold me some handicraft but had not received the payment I had sent through an agent, “What do Amerindian people do to someone they find out has been stealing from them?” The unforgettable answer was, “Well, maybe we wouldn’t speak to him for a while.”
Even taking account of the human need for social acceptance and the power of community disapproval, at that time I still felt that as Amerindians got more involved in the national market, as a group they would have to adopt cruder sanctions against theft. Nowadays, however, it seems, from events not only in interior areas but up to the level of national investments, that money dishonesty meets an even greater tolerance.
Whilst I remain an enthusiast for the cultural gifts (including language, as recognised in a recent Sunday editorial) through which Amerindians have enriched Guyaneseness, maybe it has become necessary for all of our people to take a stronger line against dishonesty. There is enough vigilance to produce a stream of published allegations of defalcation, and the spit press is overloaded by accounts of extortion, bribery and corruption, so theft of public money is not going unnoticed. And so many accusations are going undefended. How much crime, though, is going unpunished?
There is something else at stake, and that is the public perception of those entrusted with the nation’s governance from top to bottom. No amount of professional image-polishing can undo impressions widely given by opaque fiscal management and refusal of simple explanations.
Recently I remonstrated with a Sergeant for participating, at least by silence, in a vulgar shakedown carried out not on the street but in his very station.
His only response to me was, “This is Guyana.” I wished him a happy career, up to retirement with honour.
Honour? What’s that? It’s been overtaken by cynicism and by apathy. Including mine.