Dear Editor,

I thought it timely to retrace earlier steps re anti-money laundering today.  It is revealing of settled mindsets, of secret visions, and of even more clandestine activities.  It is also indicative of a perverse national character.

There is a certain rhythm and rhyme to local conversations; a distinctively qualitative texture that cannot be ignored or denied.  On the other hand, there is what is left unsaid and hanging, but is no less tangible in content and intent.  It is why I lunge forward, time and again, to puncture; to puncture the invisible balloon of pathetic ignorance and pretended innocence.  There is a certain pattern to conversations, which goes like this.

“How is bizness?”  The automatic response does not have to be guessed or anticipated; it is already bursting forth:  “Baaaad!”  There is the practised follow-up question from me: “Wha yuh tink happenin’?”  From this point on in the exchange, matters arc into the realm of the cerebral, but barely so.  “Is de ekanamy!”

Nowadays there is this nuanced buffer, this ubiquitous one word pain patch that plasters the well-travelled contours of the national hearth.  The “ekanamy” has come to be the euphemism in vogue and serves as all-purpose cover for the way things are currently.  Prior to this, the reflexive lash and heat was, “Is de guvment.”  Or more pointedly: “Is ah yuh guvment.”  But today that bluntness is long gone, through learning and growing at all levels.  There is much more subtlety; or so it is believed.

Now I cut to the chase with the who wants to be a millionaire question: “Wha yuh tink happenin to de ekanamy?”  In classic Guyanese fashion, the shifting and evasion and dissembling begin.  I have gleaned responses such as: “Tuh much taxes” (agreed); “Tuh much rule and regalashun” (disagree); and “Dem maan dis nah know wha de doin” (depends on who and the issue or portfolio).

There they are these disingenuous answers.  It is the grassy knoll of an intriguing Guyanese mystery; the street encyclopaedia of studied dishonesty, of a longing to roll in the mud and offal, and of reckless indifference, too.  But a page is left out.  In truth and in fact, it might be a whole chapter, if not the entire tawdry book.  So I persist.

This time I do so by leading these slippery adults, these grown children of the street, these one-time cash cows now forced to munch grass that is dry, bare, and honest.  “But wha bout de dutty money?”  The range of responses, like Magellan, circumnavigates the Guyanese globe.  First there is silence; then there is the shrug of shoulders; and last there is grudging acknowledgement (“Yeh, de gat sum ah dah”).  There is rarely, if ever, any open full-fledged agreement.  Matters fizzle out into the soaked squib of, “We gah fuh mek ah livin” or “Dem maan dah doin deh ting, an ah gah fuh duh meh wan tuh.”

Editor, this is the shabby saga of sickness that washes across this society in stunting reach and hold.  Money came too easy; it was of a certain kind.  No rules were enforced, and great crimes were committed and facilitated.  If this was war and it was (and still is), the people beating their breasts about broadcast legislation and oil (did I utter that word?) and the rest would be tried and found guilty of war crimes: crimes against humanity; crimes against Guyanese.  Just look at the detritus of this society in many places, the decay of the spirit, the dereliction of individual character.  In other places, those responsible would have lost their heads; forget about assets.  Now I digress somewhat.

It is why I respectfully disagree with the President when he spoke of a few (only a few) criminals being behind the troubles of this country.  They are more than a few, as the pyramid is flat; it is that kind of pyramid.  The President should look uptown, downtown, crosstown, and around town.  And when he has completed that survey, perhaps he can be drawn to examine all the other towns, wherever they may be.  But before embarking on such an ambitious undertaking, I recommend that President Granger peer closely at that community by the Stabroek Market.  They are serial and top flight lawbreakers congregated there; it is not for church and prayer.  They are neither commuters nor shoppers.    They assemble for the business of the people; or so they say.  The President ought to know that a few criminals is not enough to encompass the wide cross-section of the new middle class, the new chattering class, now lamenting and resisting and yearning.  Like the taxi drivers and barbers and retailers and hucksters and saloons and salons and so on and so forth, this is the tragic tale of a Guyana on a slow, painful, and uncertain mend, but which prefers the riches of relapse.  Relapse into the grime and quagmire of the unclean and vicious signifies no harsh diet (rules); no bitter medicine (clean money); and no tortuous therapy (full disclosure).  Guyanese society does not want that; it is reduced to: just gimme de damn money, blood and dirt and filth and all. Ironically, some of the same suspicious characters and people of interest (in multiple jurisdictions) are among those clamouring for clean government; except that they would welcome one surrounded by a dark wine red sea of darker redder money.  Now somebody tell me, please: who can stay clean and untouched in such an overwhelming, tempting, enriching environment, which is what was had?

Which government can project honestly about accountability and transparency when such prevails? And then deliver on either?  Now there is the longing at many levels (including the grassroots ones with which I converse) for the fateful slide back into this repugnance.  This is what is so beautifully summed up, so eloquently articulated in by almost one and all: it’s the economy, stupid!

Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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