– ‘Ousting the PPP/C was just the first step’
Dethroning the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) was just the first step towards creating the environment needed to significantly reduce the effects of corruption on the nation, says economist Dr. Clive Thomas.
Yesterday, the financial commentator said that the new administration, A Partnership for National Unity plus Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) must now seek to protect the society from future exposure to the corrosive effects of corruption.
Dr. Thomas said, “Voting out the PPP/C government does not, by itself, de-construct the criminal state in Guyana… That is a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for achieving this. Preventing future exposure of the new political rulership and public officials to the negative corrosive socio-economic effects of public corruption is a necessary complementary action.”
He said, too, “And above all, the elected democratic government must maintain a pro-active political economy stance, by keeping the criminal cabal on its heels.
“Political soundings of the Guyana Sugar Corporation’s (GuySuCo) imminent closure and drumming up rice farmers cry for instant markets both imply massive impending demands on public spending. This sets the stage for exploiting Guyana’s intrinsic political economy fragility and public resource diversion. Be warned.”
The economist emphasized that as the new administration pursues good governance initiatives, special attention must be given to recovering stolen public assets “which occurred during the 23-year rule of the PPP.”
Dr. Thomas estimated that size of the pool of potentially stolen public funds derived from independent sources is quite large. It can range from $333 billion to $340 billion thus making even a modest recovery of some of this worthwhile.
He said that corruption in Guyana, like elsewhere, is a major driver of income, wealth, inequality and poverty. With this in mind, he said the recovery of stolen public assets is a daunting endeavor and should not be undertaken lightly. He said that it requires an enormous commitment of political will as well as industry on the part of those entrusted with this task.
The economist said that the recovery initiative must be guided by four economic realities.
He said that any investment that Guyana makes in such an initiative is simultaneously an investment in recovery and prevention.
He opined that his proposed organizational steps therefore, create barriers/deterrents against future public corruption, as well as aids for the recovery of past stolen public assets.
Dr. Thomas said that these proposals are indeed rooted in the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). The Convention states that “Corruption can be prosecuted after the fact, but first and foremost, it requires prevention”.
On that note, he reminded of the first organizational step spoken to in Friday’s edition of this newspaper. He had suggested the establishment of an anti- corruption body/unit to pursue Guyana’s stolen public assets recovery. In this regard, he elaborated that there are basically three models of these around the world.
These are multi-purpose bodies, which incorporate this as one of its tasks but have been criticized for lacking focus and political will. Then there are the specialist law-enforcement bodies, which have been criticized for lacking developmental focus. The last model is the independent bodies.
Dr. Thomas said that he would strongly recommend that Guyana utilizes the autonomous bodies along with reporting to the National Assembly to secure transparency, and incorporating special sub-committees, as needed.
The economist said that the legal structure however, must be clearly defined in domestic law. He said that local corruption laws, anti- corruption procedures and practices must also be updated to conform to those stated by UNCAC, which is the premier international instrument against corruption.
“I refer here particularly to legal definitions of corruption, including influence peddling, nepotism, and concealment and so on as well as whistle blower legislation and the organization and functioning of the Integrity Commission and Procurement Commission. There would also be a need for the enactment of best practices, Codes of Conduct for public officials and Oaths of Office for Members of the National Assembly and Ministers,” he said.
Dr Thomas said that these provide for financial and other disclosures, disciplinary measures and processes as covered in the International Code of Conduct for Public Officials.
UNCAC, he reminded, requires countries to establish criminal and other offences to cover a wide range of acts of corruption, if these are not already crimes under domestic law.
Dr. Thomas said that the composition of this recovery body should reflect contemporary best-practices which would include investigative police/ criminal authorities; public service officials from Ministries like Home Affairs, Works, Legal Affairs, Finance; officials of regulatory agencies; private sector and community based organizations especially Transparency Institute, Human Rights, Bar Association, and Trade Union Congress.
Given the task before it, he said that the skills sets made available to this special recovery body has to be quite broad.
Dr. Thomas contended that a major problem facing this body would be sufficient resources to undertake its tasks. He said that it should be noted what UNCAC specifically declares about its stolen assets recovery initiative. “In a major breakthrough countries have agreed on assets recovery, which is stated explicitly as a fundamental principle of the Convention.”
Given that Guyana is a signatory to the Convention, the economist said that the new administration has four obligations to follow once it pursues the “Stolen Public Assets Recovery Programme.”
He said that these are prevention and criminalization of corruption, promotion of international cooperation, and improved support, technical assistance, and information exchange in both public and private sectors.
He said that technical assistance is provided under UNCAC, in terms of training, capacity building, and the provision of experts of all relevant types (legal, accounting, finance, forensic auditing, investigative, analytical, legal, and institutional framework design).
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