By Kiana Wilburg
Years of reviewing reports on the nation’s audited accounts and noting some of the country’s biggest multi-million-dollar developmental projects being ever so often marred by or suspended due to corrupt activities have led popular local economist, Dr. Clive Thomas, to the firm conviction that 60 percent of the economy is run by a financial underworld.
The retired professor made this statement at a symposium held at the National Library just a few weeks ago, which was centred on the prorogation of the parliament and its rippling effects on the nation.
In an extended interview on his conclusion on Guyana’s economy, Dr. Thomas explained that his statement is supported by many irrefutable pieces of evidence.
“We have a flawed development model, one in which the main emphasis seems to be on selling the country’s primary resources to the highest bidder. But that is not going to generate employment, advance technologies, or advance our position in the global competitiveness chain, because it is fixed and located in basically the extraction of the natural resources which has a severe and humongous environmental cost…60 percent of the economy is run by the underworld.”
The economist was then asked what makes up that underworld and/or what drives it.
“The phantom economy is what I call it. It is being driven by three forces – tax evasion, evasion of regulatory oversight in terms of those agencies like the gold board, for example, and it is also driven by criminal forms who thrive on businesses that seek to generate gains for themselves in terms of theft from certain activities. The Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh is part of this phantom economy, as well as Winston Brassington. Additionally, I would rate Ashni’s performance for this year as very poor because he is at the centre of all the financial lawlessness that we have been talking about and his ministry is the biggest single agency responsible for the financial lawlessness, abuses and irregularities that we have.
“As for role of former President Bharrat Jagdeo in this, I don’t know enough about Jagdeo’s position in the hierarchy, but I know the PPP is part of a cabal of persons of not only politicians but criminal networks seeking to evade taxes and evade the normal legal processes of the state so as to generate profits for themselves,” Dr. Thomas categorically stated.
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)’s Shadow Minister of Finance, Carl Greenidge implicitly agreed with Dr. Thomas’ viewpoint.
He added that the parallel economy or phantom economy consists of those economic activities which take place outside of the enumerated or official economy. The former finance minister said that it is the result of hiding transactions in order to avoid leaving formal evidence of the transactions, Government disregarding regulations, abusing taxpayers’ dollars and avoiding prosecution.
The politician said that some part of the parallel economy is the result of criminal activities such as theft/corruption, murder, smuggling and drug trafficking.
Greenidge opined that it started with the smuggling of rice, fish and other commodities in order to get better prices than received locally or to get control of foreign exchange which resulted from exporting.
Today, he said, it has progressed to gold being exported illegally, fuel being imported unlawfully, and drug money being brought into the country via undisclosed means or via apparently legitimate trading arrangements which are not dependent on profit. He emphasized that such activities can put legitimate enterprises out of business.
Apart from the violence which inevitably comes with such activities, Greenidge said that a big parallel market results in severe economic distortions in the economy in which resources, especially investment income, do not go to the most profitable use when weighed by obvious economic criteria, but to criminal activities.
As a consequence, the shadow finance minister said that economic growth is slower than it should be and the allocation of resources, income and wealth is not such as to facilitate long term economic growth. He said too that this situation is further worsened when the persons making the most money are those who use savings to build up more criminal enterprises which depend on extortion, murder, smuggling or intimidation of businesses, and then the economy will eventually revolve around such things.
“That is not sustainable,” he stressed.
The APNU financial point man asserted that, in any case, such systems will eventually lead to a collapse of the economy. He said that it is absolutely appalling how instead of persons with critical economic skills being promoted and trained, henchmen are sought after and rewarded for their role in certain corrupt activities.
“But let me just add to what Dr. Thomas cited. C.Y. Thomas is saying that when the parallel economy is as large as it is in Guyana, it is difficult to really gauge the pace of growth and levels of economic variables such as savings. Almost by definition, the full extent of economic activities is hidden from view and official scrutiny.
He is also saying that the state has been criminalized, in that the key state agencies work in collaboration with agents and institutions of the parallel economy. He mentioned the Ministry of Finance which, of course, oversees NICIL, which is a key device for taking decisions and has been at the helm of some of the most corrupt projects that have indebted the nation for years to come,” Greenidge expressed.
He concluded that the consequence of all these factors is that the economic growth, instead of building and using functional skills such as entrepreneurship and banking for example, uses predominantly other skills such as “con men and traders”.
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