What hope for eradicating conflict of interest?

Dear Editor,

I note that the Transparency Institute Guyana Inc has picked up the cudgels on the conflict(s) of interest situations that plague, and will continue to plague. I add some thoughts to what might only be a partially soluble mix. The most robust remedies are sure to come with loopholes that will be exploited. The crafty will be ready to circumvent in what I see will be ongoing dilemmas.

I think a real hard line would and should prohibit immediate relations from bidding for contracts.  Immediate would include spouses, offspring, and siblings, for a start. The problem is what to do with second cousins, in-laws of onetime spouses, fellow street runners, and distant family shelters, cleverly arranged for just such purposes. Meaning to either bypass or overcome or elude a possibly problematic situation, a conflict. I remind again; the stricter the government, the wiser the population. And there are some very wise people in this society. They make Cosa Nostra wise guys look like bumbling idiots. Quite frankly, I don’t see how this conflict pox on the Guyanese house can be eradicated. Correction: eradication is a nonstarter and no-brainer; not going to happen. I suggest the aim has to be limited to managing and controlling the process better with better people. To reduce with better people, as even to minimise is out of reach.

Editor, there is another problem here. Better people? Where? Who says so? Find them with the requisite quality and convictions and in sufficient quantity, and I am ready to be a listener, maybe even a believer eventually. For after all the laws have been revised, and all procedures and processes refined and streamlined, it is people – clean of character, and immaculate untouchability – that have to make this whole business come alive and glow. The people have to be on both sides of the procurement counter. That is, those submitting bids for consideration, and those receiving and reviewing and shortlisting (and whatever else they do) before escalating for approval. A quick look, any kind of look, at the related bidding, bureaucratic, and awarding landscape reveals the acute trauma of a chronic reality: the unattached, uninvolved and unblemished are in short supply, if not any kind of acceptable supply.

In other societies, there are corrupt people, but not such a great body of them everywhere. In other environments, there are immovably honourable people, but never so few of them, as in this private and public sector monstrosity that is Guyana. I invite one and all to look at boards, commissions, parliament, ministries, and the rest and it is, almost without fail, the same ugly story in Guyana, that is, of Guyana: men who have long been immersed in a personal history of dirty tricks, dirty deeds, and have earned dirty reputations. 

Some are rewarded with national awards; others with a presence to oversee the business of this land. And when they turn up, they come with an empty moneybag to be filled, a grasping awareness of what could be had, and the worst of intentions. I have serious problems with any president – old and new – as to how they could mean well for this country and then saddle it with such plunderers, such closet criminals. These are among the reasons I have always recommended meritocracy. Usually, those who qualify for that grade have too much pride to be bought, or to sell themselves. Worked too hard, reputation means too much. Money – unearned, dirty, below the table – are those dogs that suck rotten eggs.

Editor, another real-life consideration is this: promotions, careers, and duration of public servants depend on the blessings of political masters. Even if politicians do not interfere or impinge (and they do) in key decision-making processes, there are sensitivities as to what pleases, what inhibits, and what they (the senior bureaucrats) have been placed there to do, and are expected to deliver, whether contracts, jobs, or otherwise. So they do; otherwise, it is suicide or risking becoming a marked man. To repeat the obvious, it is the nature of the monster, and part of the gamesmanship. 

At a more granular level, engineers have perfected the art of providing cushions in estimates (part of the financial feedback deceptions); bidders have learned to build in percentages for venal officials; clerks and middlemen and bosses all have a manual on how to game the system for personal benefit, and who is a player, as well as a payer; and political relations and families have grown adept at erecting fronts and other shells to camouflage origins. The latter is part of my ongoing apprehension as to the routes that will be travelled to avoid successfully, new requirements relative to conflicts. Mark my words: those who have not done so before will find ways to manipulate matters, both the environment, the people who are part of these things, and what were the original objectives of any legislative and policy enhancements.

It is pointless to look back at the syphilitic culture and history that spawned and nourished what is Guyana today. I regret (and flinch, too) when I conclude that both are here to stay for the foreseeable future. But that is an integral aspect of reality on the one hand, and the dilemmas, controversies, barbarities, and overall sicknesses on the other.

So what is the answer?  Let me be clear: amendments and tightening up and holding of people to higher standards are all constructive elements. But all of the revisions and best intentions are not going to matter a damn, if the people appointed to be watchdogs and protectors of the state’s interest are more craven and crooked than Lucifer himself. No perfume, no scripture, no palaver, no marketing, no ethical attestations, no character references are of any meaning, if the bodies selected to get the job done have locked into the rigor mortis of a certain dead and depraved mentality, and who assume office with an understanding of what makes things flow, and what is in it by doing so.

Editor, political leaders who have financial mischief on their mind, have already sold citizens down the drain. Political leaders deciding on friends and neighbours (too many times dishonourable people) to manage the state’s business, doom this country to continuing decay.  Political leaders without morals and ethics simply turn the wheel of fortune for new and old cabals to continue to ravish this land. Today, it is thus; tomorrow will be same.

Yours faithfully,

GHK Lall

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