President of Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc (TIGI), Troy Thomas says he believes that it was pressure from the people that saw “the unprecedented” release of oil contracts by the government.
“It is therefore important that we recognize the significance of this development and push for this to become the standard for dealing with contracts signed by the government. After all, these are contracts with the people and not the few entrusted with the power to negotiate on behalf of the people,” he told TIGI’s fund-raising dinner on Saturday at the Pegasus Hotel.
Following sustained public pressure, the APNU+AFC government released the controversial 2016 contract with ExxonMobil subsidiary, EEPGL on December 28th last year and then announced that all contracts would be released. Several more have since been issued to the public.
Thomas pointed out that global watchdog, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index of 2017 shows Guyana as having climbed 17 places; from 108 to the rank of 91, based on a 4-point gain, from 34 to 38. This is on top of having moved up 11 places in 2016.
He said this amounts to an impressive improvement of 27 places since the APNU+AFC coalition government took office.
“This indicates to us that people; the citizens, and experts consulted, believe that encounters with corruption in the daily lives of citizens have been on the decline. It means that we are gaining ground in the fight against corruption,” he said.
However, he said that this does not mean that all is well since being the “best of the worst” is not the ultimate goal.
“The reality is that Guyana is still among the highly corrupt countries of the world. The imminent petroleum production and the cash flow that it likely to result can threaten whatever gains have been made. We need to remain watchful and strengthen our resolve to ensure that Guyana and Guyanese receive the benefits of our resources and not the few entrusted with the power to manage them,” Thomas stressed.
Bringing to the fore issues that have been seen by Guyana’s citizenry as examples of corruption, Thomas said that this country still has a far way to go in its fight against the scourge.
“As I stand before you, the storage bond deal is still in place and there were further breaches of the procurement laws in the Health Sector in 2017. The parking meter deal which breached the procurement laws has not been rescinded. We are still hearing of exorbitant expenditure on housing for ministers without knowing who is accountable. The signature bonus paid by ExxonMobil is still in an illegal account that is not controlled by Parliament. I can go on, but I am aware that we are here to have a nice time and to socialize,” he stated.
The storage bond deal pertains to a lucrative arrangement worked out by the government with PNCR supporter Larry Singh. Under pressure, the government had said that the deal would be brought to an end but it has continued. The basis for the selection of Singh has not been explained. The breach of procurement law in the health sector pertained to $632m worth of emergency drugs purchased for the GPHC which Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence had said she had fast-tracked. She would later say that she could not be held responsible for procurement breaches that occurred in the purchases.
Another important development, Thomas said, was the passage of whistleblower protection legislation in Parliament and how citizens view it.
He singled out Berbice nurse Sherilyn Marks, who Stabroek News reported had complained about the abuse by a Region Five councillor of her office and was immediately transferred- a move she believes was made to intimidate and target her.
“We pause our applause to ponder the treatment of Nurse Marks who was transferred from her post for blowing the whistle on a Councillor attached to the party in government. We also ponder the continuation of the practice of inserting secrecy clauses into new legislation. The year 2017 was marked by dissonance in the political class on the matter of whistleblowing,” he said.
“Like lead in the human body, we seem to have the appearance of the essential elements in fighting corruption in society but lacking the functionality. Yet we are hopeful about the passage of whistleblower protection legislation,” he added.
Turning to politicians, Thomas said that they should find concerning data compiled by the body, though assistance from the British High Commission, that shows that Guyanese believe that “politicians are thought to be even more corrupt than the police force.”
“How do politicians therefore provide confidence that they are addressing corruption when it counts?” he questioned.
“I say that political financing legislation is an essential element and that the apparent backpedaling on it is unacceptable. I note further, that it was a campaign promise which makes it a matter of accountability for the Coalition Government,” he added.
Thomas called on the public to join TIGI to in its fight against corruption, as the body needs all the assistance that it can get. “We need everyone to come onboard. I call on you to join the fight. You don’t have to be a member of TIGI to join the fight, but I encourage you to do so. Help us advance the cause for all Guyanese,” he pleaded.