Will a new government need international help to fix a corrupt system?

Dear Editor,

Your news story, ‘GGMC gets legal advice against Cabinet decision for $3B transfer,’ (March 5), is no different from the groundswell of voices advising the Jagdeo regime against its decision to award US$15M to Makeshwar ‘Fip’ Motilall in 2010 to build the access road to the proposed Amaila hydroelectric generating facility. So it is obvious that the PPP pays no attention to solicited or unsolicited advice, because it strongly believes it can do anything it wants and get away with it, except when it is pressured to act differently. And pressure (including an interim court injunction) is what is needed at this point to stop this improper, perhaps illegal, transfer of the $3B (US$150M) from the GGMC to the Central Housing and Planning Authority.

It is common knowledge the GGMC Act allows the GGMC to retain and spend some monies from revenues generated from mining activities to help cover its operating expenses. In fact, it has already reportedly spent monies on areas associated with sustaining mining activities and even social projects in areas that host mining activities. Moreover, all other unspent monies from the GGMC – and other government agencies and ministries – must be sent to the Consolidated Fund, from where all government agencies and ministries can then seek supplemental budget funding after the Finance Minister asks Parliament to approve such supplemental budgets. If the Housing Ministry needs $3B to spend on housing, therefore, it is Parliament, not Cabinet, which is vested with legal authority to approve any transferring of money, and it must be from the Consolidated Fund. Ergo, that GGMC $3B should have been sent to the Consolidated Fund in the first place. Unfortunately, Parliament stands dissolved in preparation for general and regional elections due May 11, which is all the more reason why the government should not be spending these inordinate sums of money on projects that are being viewed by observers as vote-buying scams or worse.

But this is the pattern of corrupt behaviour Guyanese have come to recognize as being par for the course with this PPP regime, and which begs the twin questions: Does anyone know how our government became so corrupt and is there really a cure for the disease of government corruption? Most of us readily latch on to the prevailing narrative of a Jagdeo-era corruption, as though it started then, but in March 1997, the Guyana Chronicle carried a news item, “Jagdeo challenges PNC to debate on charges of corruption,” in which then Finance Minister, Bharrat Jagdeo, declared that allegations of PPP government corruption were based on a “network of lies,” and specifically attributed them to a group of “affiliated organs, namely, the PNC, GGG, Evening News and New Nation.” Claiming they had no evidence to prove what they were saying, Mr Jagdeo threw down a gauntlet: “If they think that this [PPP] government is corrupt, let’s debate it. Let the people of this country decide, let them bring all the facts and then we’ll speak about the genesis of corruption and why it exists until now.” Not satisfied with his thrown gauntlet, Mr Jagdeo made a profound revelation when he said the role the PNC played while it was in office in creating weak systems allowed for corrupt practices in many cases. It was as close to a blanket indictment of the PNC regime not only being corrupt, but of being the

genesis of government corruption. He added that he knew of many facts that indicated the PNC was involved in siphoning off state funds, and which he intended to make public within a few months, but which he never did. Mr Jagdeo also said these ‘facts’ were communicated to members of the PNC, and stressed he wanted Mr Hoyte to answer because he had, until 1992, been responsible for some of the actions.

For example, Mr Jagdeo revealed the issue of ‘legal exports from the Guyana Gold Board that were passed through the Office of the President, which had a private arrangement with a man in Canada. He alleged payments went to the Office of the President, and not the Accountant General or the Consolidated Fund, or the Bank of Guyana, according to regulations. Question: What exactly has changed during the Jagdeo-era in government? Commenting on Mr Hoyte’s suggestion that he [Jagdeo] and Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon had conspired to put a favourable spin on the 1996 Auditor General’s report, Mr Jagdeo contended that this was “at variance with the truth.” He reportedly recalled no such AG reports were issued for years when the PNC was in office, pointing out that the Auditor General’s department under the PPP reported full cooperation with all policy-makers in all government ministries. He added that the reports identified problems and recommendations to help the administration to manage better, while noting that the PNC had blocked audits of its privatisation deals.

Question: What exactly has changed during the Jagdeo era in government? Editor, the PNC engaged in its share of corruption, but the fact that Mr Jagdeo knew of the PNCs past may well have been the reason why the PNC never really put up a potent fight to stop the catastrophic explosion of corruption on Mr Jagdeo’s watch and why, to this day, the PPP feels it can still engage in any corrupt act and get away with it. Still, the odiferous emanations of this US$150M GGMC-CHPA transfer deal smells to the high heavens. But while it may be only one part of the disease, it is not too late to start beating back the spread by blocking this improper, perhaps illegal, transfer. That government corruption pre-dates the PPP’s ascent to office in 1992 makes one wonder whether any attempt by even an APNU-AFC regime to surgically eradicate corruption could result in a total collapse of government, or if a new government will need as much international help as possible to fix this broken system!

Yours faithfully,
Emile Mervin

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