The issue of corruption has now assumed global proportions. It is an issue that resonates with peoples all over the world and therefore has become a hot-button issue for politicians who seize upon any issue, real or imagined in order to score political points. So pervasive has corruption been globally that that there is no country in the world that has, in one way or the other, been spared the ‘corruption’ virus.
According to a Reuters report, Liberian Leader, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has suspended her son and 45 other government officials for failing to declare their assets to anti-corruption authorities in her drive to stamp out corruption in her country.
In Cuba, three former Vice Ministers and nine senior executives were sentenced to prison for periods ranging from six to twelve years for “crimes associated with corruption during the negotiation, contracting and execution of the expansion of the Pedro Soto Alba nickel plant”.
And in neighbouring Brazil, a significant number of high-profile government officials including Cabinet Ministers were relieved from their jobs on corruption allegations. In fact, Brazil is currently in the midst of its largest corruption trial in its history. Some thirty-eight individuals including current and former government officials have been accused of a variety of offences including paying or accepting bribes, money laundering, conspiracy, fraudulent management of finance institutions and other related crimes.
In India, the ruling Congress Party is under intense pressure from opposition activists two of whom have resorted to hunger strike in an attempt to draw attention to corruption allegations involving senior government functionaries.
In the United States, cases of corporate fraud have now become commonplace and have resulted in quite a number of high profile charges leading to imprisonment, in some instances.
Because of the global scale of corruption, Transparency International has established local chapters in almost every country in the world who monitor and provide information on perceptions of corruption which are then used to compile what is referred to as a Corruption Perception Index.
The Index itself is not free from controversy and has drawn increasing criticism leading to calls for the index to be abandoned. This criticism has resulted from what is believed in some quarters to the rather arbitrary and eclectic manner in which information is obtained, based on third party interviews and surveys which may or may not reflect the true situation.
As mentioned earlier, the issue of corruption has been widely used as a political weapon to castigate governments and in the process to gain political capital.
Guyana has got more than its fair share of corruption allegations, with one local newspaper making it a staple diet on its publication menu. Most of the allegations are circumstantial and anecdotal but have been given so much prominence that they have assumed a life on their own.
One consequence of such media distortions is that many public servants are being tainted with corruption charges which are entirely baseless and without substance. The Auditor’s General’s Report is used by opposition elements conveniently to highlight cases which are twisted out of context to make it appear that there were fraudulent intention on the part of accounting officers when in fact it was a case of information not readily available at the time of audit or other accounting lapses.
To an extent, the current administration has become the ‘victim’ of its own success in bringing the issue of accountability and transparency in the public domain. The Auditor General’s Report is now being presented to Parliament on an annual basis which is then used by the Public Accounts Committee to interrogate Accounting Officers on accounting deficiencies highlighted in the Report. Prior to the assumption to office of the current administration, the Auditor General Report was invariably late and when presented it was of little or no consequence since most of the records were unavailable or were overtaken by time. Prior to the coming to office of the current PPP/C administration, there was no Auditor General Report for twelve consecutive years!
Every society is poorer for corruption and corrupt practices especially those involving public funds. This is why every effort must be made to stamp out corruption. The current PPP/C administration has repeatedly said that it has zero-tolerance for corruption and corrupt practices and has in fact instituted several measures to prevent corruption including the establishment of the Integrity Commission which makes it mandatory for government officials and leading public figures to declare their assets on an annual basis. There is also the Public Accounts Committee, which as mentioned before, is responsible for bringing accounting officers to book. These are positive steps taken by the administration. The establishment of the National Procurement Commission would further enhance the process of transparency in terms of the procurement of goods and services and the awards of contracts.
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