More effective than moral governance is needed
It was Sir Walter Scott who centuries ago observed, “Oh what a tangled web we weave. When we first practice to deceive.”
The greatest deception in Guyana today is self-deception, and it is widespread.
Many are of the view that the best way to fix the government is for the President to change a few ministers, dismiss some others and jail a dozen more.
This is self-deception, at its worst, because it assumes that it is few individuals whose illicit acts are wholly responsible for the problems of the country. Removing them will be the magic bullet. Nothing could be further from the truth.
This country is rife with corruption, both private and public. People steal water; they steal electricity, they try to avoid taxes; there are conmen roaming the streets concocting all manner of schemes to get a dollar; and there are many others who if given the chance as some of the very public officials they malign would not do any better.
So how can a mass firing of government officials solve anything in this country? What guarantees that the replacements will not do the same? A mass firing may help but it will not solve the real problems of Guyana.
This is not to say that efforts at promoting integrity in public office should be spurned. God knows that Guyana needs examples of honest, decent individuals in public office. Guyana needs to have much more of these persons occupying positions of authority and power because their example will help purge the system of wrongdoing.
But merely firing officials will not change the culture of corruption in Guyana. Yet this is what so many people feel is the answer to our problems.
They feel so strongly about this fact that recently when the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago fired a minister who refused to submit to a breathalyzer test, this example was used to urge the President of Guyana to follow in the footsteps of his counterpart.
We have to be careful about how we idolize certain governments in the Caribbean. We may be putting down ourselves unnecessarily. It is true that since she took office, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago has fired at least seven ministers. But not all of these were fired for alleged misconduct. Some were removed during a Cabinet reshuffle. In fact a few of those replaced were even given diplomatic postings.
At the same time, there is one minister who was mired in an international sporting controversy, something that would have led to resignation in most European or North American jurisdictions, but the Prime Minister has not fired, nor is she likely to fire that individual.
It is good that people can look to foreign countries and see examples which they feel should be imitated locally but they should not hold up those countries as having governments that are unflawed or being virtuosos of good governance.
Firing a few ministers in Guyana may satisfy the baser instincts of those who can see no good in the present government. But it will not solve the problem of corruption.
What Guyana needs is not so much moral government as it does effective government. Moral government is a necessary but not an absolute condition for ending corruption.
The fight against corruption must involve the search, as mentioned before, for persons of integrity to be appointed to public office. But more important than this is the need for fair and efficient governance, one that delivers results.
With effective government, there is likely to be little or no corruption. People are not likely to bribe public officials because the system would be fair and efficient.
We also have to careful in Guyana about trying to follow other countries which take certain things too far. In some countries if a minister is caught vomiting on the streets, there will be calls for his neck. If he has an extra-martial affair, then his goose is cooked. If he farts too hard in public, it becomes a national embarrassment.
Politicians are subject to all kinds of scrutiny of their personal lives, in fact too much scrutiny. This is much too intrusive and does not lend to effective governance.
So let us step off the pedal in trying to get the necks of public officials and concentrate on creating a culture of clean government by first having effective governance- accountability, efficiency and fairness.