Quite a number of writers have raised concerns about the conflict of interests that arises when contracts are awarded to relatives of public officials, especially at the level of Ministers/Parliamentarians, or when they are awarded to businesses owned by such public officials. Even if these officials had nothing, directly or indirectly, to do with the awarding of contracts, there will always be the perception of undue influence and or corruption when officials of the upper echelon of government are involved.
Guyana is a ‘small’ country where everyone knows everyone and generally, only a small bunch of individuals with the wherewithal – finance and connections – establish companies and seek ‘sweetheart’ deals through their contacts/positions/influences. It is therefore, difficult to foresee, any time soon, a change in this phenomenon that would create a more level playing field and allay the public perception of corruption. However, in the interest of building an equitable society, the practice of awarding ‘conflict of interest’ contracts must be stopped.
The Guyanese collective have the power to change this abuse of office/power by government officials. They can do so by putting pressure on the government to establish policies and guidelines, not only to inform the contract awarding process to public officials, but also to get the general public involved by improving transparency. The following are some of the areas the policy guidelines should address:
a) Ministers/public officials should publish in the media a declaration of their interest /connection to the firm/company bidding for a contract;
b) Bidding process should be open and transparent;
c) A select ad hoc committee should review/determine winners of the bid;
d) Publish the winner of the bid in the media;
e) Limit the number of contracts that can be awarded to the particular firm in a given time period;
f) Establish clear timelines for completion, and monitor project for quality;
g) Sanction defaulters for untimeliness and poor quality;
h) Sanctions can be heavy fines, or disqualifications from future biddings (or jail terms for certain projects which may pose threat to life or limb).
In a nutshell, the current political and perceivable ‘corrupt’ contract awarding practice must be stopped. To that end, the populace must pressure the government to act. The government, however, need show they have the ‘testicular apparatus’ to implement policies which would bring greater transparency on the process as well as limiting the number of bids by public officials.
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