Jul 24, 2017 Letters
There are two things I will comment on observations on the above matter made by Ms. Vicky McPherson a shareholder in the Global Energy and Infrastructure group as reported in Kaieteur News of 7th July 2017. First the shareholder is said to have opined that laws will not be enough to prevent corruption in our oil and gas industry. Obviously, this opinion of MS McPherson is correct. The presence of laws never did or never will, by themselves prevent crime.
The second aspect of Ms. McPherson’s reported comments was the suggestion that what is needed to deter corruption is “leadership and the personal conviction to not steal from the public purse.” This statement is not as clear as a casual examination might suggest it is, and lends itself to various interpretations.
I will take both aspects of this statement to be referring to both leaders at the national political decision making level and senior persons Guyana identify to monitor and participate in the management of the oil industry on its behalf. With this as my understanding of the context in which the statement was made I now turn to examine what we know about white collar crime to see if it comports with the shareholder’s notion of what will halt its presence. To do so I turn to Sutherland’s Differential Association theory for assistance.
While the theory of Differential Association (DA) has its short falls (like all theories), it remains the most used theory for explaining causation for white collar crime. Essentially DA holds that our behaviour is influenced by the extent to which we share the values and definitions of law and its violation held by our colleagues (our reference group).
Thus, Sutherland saw this crime as a natural consequence of the interaction with criminal lifestyle. A straightforward way for us to gain an appreciation of Sutherlands’ DA theory is to recall the old and familiar saying “show me your company and I will tell you who you are.” An examination of alleged white-collar crimes in Guyana’s recent history seems to support Sutherland’s contention.
When the now governing parties were in the opposition they accused then president Jagdeo of committing white collar crimes – reference his Prado 1 and Prado 2 homes. The life styles of ministers in Jagdeo’s government and other senior government functionaries exceed what their salaries could make possible. These said officials felt comfortable telling the nation their sudden wealth was achieved courtesy of barrels sent by relatives.
Friends of the President purchased the people’s property at below market price. When these things happened, we knew these senior functionaries felt comfortable doing these things because they were assured of support from their colleagues (reference group).Persons with whom, according to Sutherland, they “share values and definitions favorable to law violation.”
For quite some time now the social scientist has noted the tendency of humans to adopt the values of our colleagues/reference group. Social psychology tells us that the tendency to confirm to group values and behaviour is really an effort to satisfy our need for acceptance and the maintenance of group harmony. Indeed, not understanding this willingness of individuals to adopt the values and behaviour of their reference group is what lead to many of us exclaiming, on hearing of the corrupt acts of someone we knew prior to his/her elevation to positions of influence and authority – “he change! He was never a person like that.”
It is expected that the oil sector will come on stream somewhere near the end of this government’s present term. While we know what to expect from the PPP based upon its past behaviour which suggest a willingness to pursue self-aggrandizement at the expense of the poor, what are we to expect if the present government is returned to power? It would seem to me that the same yard stick of gauging future behaviour based upon past conduct that I employed earlier for assessing the PPP must also be used for suggesting how the APNU/AFC is likely to behave if returned to power.
Based upon his behaviour thus far, only the malicious and childishly partisan would suggest that President Granger shows any interest in self-aggrandizement. From his conduct, it seems showering himself with material riches is not his definition of a successful life, his emphasis seems to be focused on personal spiritual growth. So, while the PPP is rotten from the head down and therefore offers ideal conditions for white collar crimes to flourish, in the case of the APNU/AFC government the accommodating of such crimes comes from the wider community of its governing group. .
Remember Sutherland’s theory did not focus on the behaviour of the leader but on the wider leadership – colleagues who are one’s “reference group.” It is their acceptance of criminal behaviour that offers the accommodating environment for such crimes. Support for the correctness of Sutherland’s focus on leadership rather than the leader can be seen in the fact that even during the presidency of a simple man like Dr. Jagan white collar crime was said to be rampant among senior PPP officials.
So, under the APNU/AFC government when we recall the drugs bond scandal, the mystery surrounding the purchase of millions of dollars of drugs, are we not seeing a culture in the government which suggests support for messing with the peoples’ money? And what are we to make of a government which see no harm in taking from the public purse to award themselves 50% raise in salaries while telling poor workers “all we can afford to give you is 10% or below?”
A government that uses poor taxpayers’ dollars to provide ministers with rented houses, costing half a million dollars each month? When a government could look out for itself in this brazen manner, at the expense of workers, what are we to conclude? Isn’t it, based on its behavior, giving credence to Sutherland’s contention that white collar crime flourishes where persons in position of authority share a favorable definition of law violation?
With all the above as our reality, tell me, why should we believe that this government and its senior appointees will not also use oil money in the same selfish manner and that white collar crime will not continue to plague the nation?
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