The cries rise; the result of project awards and the appearance of insider favour, continuing wrongdoing, or simply something amiss. Matters do not fade away or settle when there are linkages involving ministers. Things do not stop at the political, but encroach into the territory of top public servants or well-placed, influential state bureaucrats.
And whether real or imagined, negligible or chronic, the brooms of suspicion and misgiving sweep wide.
The first thing that should be said is that the servants pinpointed (ministers and strategic officers) are neither politically naïve, environmentally ignorant nor culturally insensitive.
Yet, on too many occasions, there is this seeming indifference to the potential fallouts that are sure to come from what may not be a problem, but appears to be so.
In this country, perception is reality. It might be an artificially or conveniently concocted perception to blast the unwary; but regardless, damage is done, at least to reputation, if not group. This places targets at the disadvantage of the defensive and on the backfoot.
They cannot attack; they are forced to explain. Too often, that comes over as too weak, too late, and too lacking in credibility. This applies, whether the issue involved is about land or scholarships or housing or some contract award.
The pervasive local sentiment (arguably local religion) is that, in governmental affairs of this nature, there exists a tradition and practice of mutual masturbation or to put in more mundane domestic terms: ‘hand wash hand’.
And that paper separation is not enough to nullify the realities at work behind the scenes that rarely, if ever, distance sufficiently from policy, process, and practices, when such occurs in the dark alleyways of procurement, review, and winners.
Those clamoring the loudest ought to know. For at one time or another, and for different bids, they either have been subject to rejection or were asked to pay to play; and ended up doing so.
So, what is the answer? Can there be any that is robust enough and adequate enough to allay and overcome the piercing contentions of a poisoned and embitter terrain? It is a terrain made exponentially more problematic by the fact that everyone talks, there are no secrets, and everyone is so close as to be within earshot of the all the juicy details.
The first commitment of state servants (stewards, too) is that there has to be full and preemptive disclosures. These are my immediate relationships, my businesses, my interests.
Second, disclosures must be granular, and the more the better, if only for peace of mind and an affirmative defence later. The question is where does this stop? As this may only highlight relationships of blood and by law. The list could be unending.
Third, there is what is considered a safe harbour in other locales: a blind trust. Admittedly, this one is not so blind in Guyana, since citizens who want to know end up knowing. The mentality is that nobody is honest, none can be trusted, and only the worst should be imagined.
In regular, more civilized circumstances, a trustee or advisor both fully authorized, suffices to minimize accusations of skullduggery. In Guyana, it may not be enough: too much malice, too much readiness to ascribe perversity when there is none.
Fourth, political and other public servants would be wise to operate with certain hard understandings: that they are held to a higher, sharper standard; that they must be open and purer that Calpurnia; and that they must appreciate that there are sinister shadows everywhere. Thus, they must overcompensate.
Fifth, ministers must not see office as the influential (or crafty) means to lucrative ends or else all is lost.
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