Over time the people of this country have been hearing about their corrupt government. For example, there was talk that Forbes Burnham had stolen so much money that he was the fifth richest person in the world. The accusers quoted Forbes Magazine. Those were the days when information contained in foreign magazines was not readily available.
It turned out that there was never such a publication. Today, more than 25 years after Burnham’s death there is no evidence that he was ever a wealthy man. President Cheddi Jagan came to power with a pledge to run a lean and clean government. And he was true to his word. He caused his government to import pharmaceuticals when a local supplier turned out to be fleecing his government. Suffice it to say that that local supplier is once more the major supplier of pharmaceuticals to the government.
As news of unprecedented corruption began to circulate the then President Bharrat Jagdeo simply asked people to provide proof. Some did and got nowhere. Others were threatened by persons unknown to keep their mouths shut and some lost government contracts. In the end people chose to report to the media.
That there is rampant corruption is now an open secret, so open that Nadira Jagan, a daughter of the Jagans, publicly accused the people in the party her father founded of stealing at unimaginable levels. She said that she was ashamed and her audience listened.
Now, a man who challenged for the presidential nominee of his party, has become the latest to complain about the levels of corruption. Mr Ralph Ramkarran has said that some of the corruption may be perceived. None can fault that statement. Burnham’s wealth was perceived but people believed and acted against it. But there are clear cases of corruption. And Mr Ramkarran wants the head of state to act.
These days, very few of the accused can say that they are as clean as driven snow. In the first instance their physical assets defy explanation. When one compares these assets to their earnings there seems to be no correlation. In some countries the tax man would have intervened but in Guyana, given the nature of the politics, he has chosen to remain silent.
One case was revealed when a woman whose earnings were no more than $40,000 per month from the Guyana Oil Company, proceeded to buy a house for $60 million. This was brought to the attention of Head of the Guyana Revenue Authority, Khurshid Sattaur, who simply ignored the information.
There are other reports of corruption, all of which remain uncontested. And there is a reason for this. The people who should conduct the investigations subvert themselves to the political directorate. The result is that if someone is close to the political directorate then that person enjoys immense protection, even from criminal protection.
There is now the case of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL). This body controls Government assets. It has the power to dispose of these assets and it does not have to account to the National Assembly.
Now there is a charge of rampant corruption with funds from NICIL. The Parliamentarians say that they have to investigate and that they would like to see the books. But the government is saying that this would not happen. Is there something to hide? Since NICIL controls state assets the least that could happen is that people be allowed to see how these assets are preserved or disposed of.
In the same way that the auditor has found that the government-owned National Communications Network cannot account for some $215 million, NICIL is probably in the same position. In the case of NCN the money might never have been collected from people who placed advertisements. In the case of NICIL there may be people who have acquired government assets without completing the payment. This is dishonest. This is a corrupt practice.
And as if the heavens have opened, each day there are new reports of corruption being unearthed somewhere. We now have the city council among the latest band of corrupt practices. Already the NCN probe has revealed that people caused to be paid to their personal accounts, money destined to the media outlet.
President Ramotar has to take control and act condignly. Corruption has caused his party, for the first time, to preside over a minority government. Further corruption could see the People’s Progressive Party losing the seat of government altogether.
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