As one of the persons nominated for the GNCCP-initiated civil society council, I attended the initial event and was impressed by the process in which the council was selected. There were also well-received interventions by several people, including Pamela Nauth, Christopher Ram and Magda Pollard. Also notable, a well-coordinated interview was conducted with the executive Director of a reputable civil society support organization in Germany.
Which brings us to the man behind this initiative himself. Though everything he said with regard to the role of civil society was sound, none of the items on Dr Phillip Thomas Mozart’s ostensibly illustrious resumé I have been able to independently verify. Indeed several of the organisations he claims to be accredited by or associated with don’t really exist, at least in the form he lists them. For example, while he claims to be “charged [sic] and responsible for the management and oversight of The Greener World Limited Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) Euro Fund”, there does not seem to be any such fund by that name although there is indeed a CDM that is set out in the Kyoto Protocol.
Dr Thomas claims to be currently the President and CEO of Deltta Group Holdings, Inc, a company that “provides Strategic Global Legal and Business Consultancy Services in private and public sector industries such as Banking, Financing, Securities and Capital Markets, Mergers and Acquisitions, Public Sector Privatization, Telecommunication, Oil, Gas, Green Clean Technology, Transpor-tation, etc.”
However, one website lists the business as closed since 2012, and the building at the listed address appears on Google Maps street view as an Enterprise Car Rental outlet at a junction in Valley Stream, New York. What is curious is while there is a fairly well-constructed website for GNCPP there is none for the DGHI that Thomas claims to be his company. These are issues that cannot and should not be dismissed since they lead to the question of personal integrity in public leadership.
That said, we have a country headed by a President who claims to be “an economist by training” yet there is no evidence of a single economic paper being published by him, and who has had no significant private sector nor public sector experience outside of party work and political appointments on state boards. We have the PPP’s General Secretary and current Minister of Home Affairs whose CV features such highlights as “Newspaper Columnist; Contributor to several International Journals and Magazines” (none actually listed) and which boasts of his language achievements as “Spanish, Czech and Russian” when his facility with even English can be called into question on a weekly basis. Finally, we have a Junior Minister of Finance, a self-ordained ‘bishop’ who says Jesus would have voted PPP if said Son of God were eligible to vote in Guyana. Thomas has been painted as a self-inflated charlatan, but if he is, he is perhaps not without good company in the corridors of power.
To the question of accountability, the same government which is questioning Thomas’ financial dealings and shady qualifications paid US$15 million to Fip Motilall to build an access road in jungle terrain when he had no qualification of ever having constructed so much as a garden path. The President’s son is currently in virtual hiding from the media while the billion-dollar project he was put in charge of needs ‘remedial’ work before it has actually been completed, even as people questioned his qualifications to run it. This is the government that has been also closely connected to or facilitated Ed Ahmad, Bernard Kerik, Roger Khan, Sonny Ramdeo, and Khem Lall among many others, and which has refused to take action on corruption, including in the NCN scandal that fingered two people very close to it. The same government also has hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in a Marriott project with nebulous investors and a secret-shrouded equity investment mechanism.
The curious thing is that even as the Office of the President issued the directive for the public to avoid the event, the state-owned venue was still rented out by a government agency, and the GDF, of which President Ramotar is commander-in-chief had its band playing at the opening. The backhanded petulant way in which the government has attacked this initiative is proof positive of a political party that is desperately against any sort of coordination of civil society.
The real indictment of Guyanese society however is when on social media more focus was directed towards questioning Thomas’ integrity than pointing out the absurd depths to which government has gone to stop a meeting of people in a public space. The onus is on Dr Thomas to present his bona fides to the general public, yes. As a journalist, there are enough red flags there for me to say that a cursory examination of his CV warrants a full fact check of his vaunted qualifications. However, if it is that he is a disreputable character and has gone as far as bringing reputable people together for a common purpose, we need to ask where are the actual reputable characters in this society who have yet to achieve this feat.
We have three dangers before us. The least of them is an allegedly questionable character bringing together civil society actors towards the purpose of establishing a forum for discussion and hopefully action. The second in degree, so far, is a government that is willing to use official directives and bureaucratic subterfuge to seek to stifle the fundamental rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and the right to exchange information. The third and the greatest danger, however, is a ‘reputable’ civil society that is itself so fragmented, compromised, incompetent and directionless that it fails to communicate within its disparate self and coordinate the necessary movement not against any entity but in order to promote recognition of and defend the basic rights of citizens whenever those rights are under assault. If the PPP has been successful at anything, it has been the neutering and corruption of civil society where we have advocates who send out tepid press releases condemning corruption over breakfast and break bread with government ministers by lunch.
Thomas has started something. Even as, like any public figure, his credibility should be rigorously interrogated, the substance of what he purports to do should also be considered, both not simply within themselves but within the context of this society. And even as the leaders of civil society subject his shortcomings to intense scrutiny, perhaps they will in that process subject their own as well.