The Guyana Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (GYEITI) has brewed a storm in a basket. From the GYEITI perspective, as fleshed out in some detail in its recent first report, it has been a basket of the type familiar to Guyanese: made of straw and leaky. This has attracted responses ranging from silence to the defensive to the attacking. Some sound valid; others give the appearance of targeting the messenger. It revolves around the small matter of information.
It should be private; hence, protected. It should be free and public, and made available first to the state through its coercive power, and then disseminated to all and sundry. This is the sum of the story: bare and dry; collated and categorised; and unscreened and untainted. That is all well and good; at least, under normal circumstances. Therein resides the first issue: there is nothing normal about most matters in Guyana.
Take this business of information.
Everybody is all in favour of information gathering; but not when it applies to them. The walls go up; hackles are raised; fears and tempers follow suit; and finally, the dukes are upraised for both defensive and offensive purposes. Everybody suddenly discovers they have a grave problem, a chronic problem, an irremediable problem with information sharing to any substantial degree.
It might be in the working of the GYEITI or as has been the experience, for most other things. As should be obvious, where there is no information sharing, there can be no information gathering. Not of quality or quantity. And not of any meaningful substance.
This variety of mentality saturates across the length and breadth of this territory. All the cheerleaders for information gathering transform into information preservers. Methodology. Purpose. Scope. Frequency. All of these come under severe scrutiny. From the smallest to the hugest in this place, there develops tightening the stomach muscles, baring the teeth, and drawing the lines of cooperating (limited) and opening (more limited) and releasing (still more limited).
The ordinary citizen has a problem with admitting, locating, and delivering something as basic as an identification card. He or she is either living a double life, or has something to hide, or is inexplicably and groundlessly secretive and cynical. He is comfortable being faceless, nameless, homeless, and clueless. Call it the anonymity of the crowd; being under the radar and away from the probe of scrutiny. It is usually a tooth and nail struggle for something so mundane. Abuse can be a part of the response.
In more genteel elevations, it is called constructive criticism or the constitutional right against certain unjustified invasions. Sounds like shades of the type dished out, rightly or improperly, against the GYEITI.
For up the ladder, intents are (lawyers and motions and objections) stonewalling indefinitely or, better yet, denying permanently. The determined resisters are a mixed bag, with some surprising ones: on an intra-governmental agency basis, with sloth or failure (or both) to deliver requested information on either timely or sufficiency bases; it is the same old story, admittedly more pronounced in some situations when the requirements are placed before the private sector; and, as is to be expected, it is just as unchanging when individuals find themselves on the receiving end of document lists and having to part with records.
Every citizen seeks transparency and accountability, and rightly so, from the state. This can only be achieved through full disclosure and unredacted disclosure. Yet when the shoe is on the other foot, and government, of necessity, demands some similar standard from partners, stakeholders, and wide-ranging constituents (along with sister government agencies themselves), there is reluctance and outright rejection. In a primitive paper world, attempts to migrate to electronic platforms are received with hostility and sabotage.
In an age of corruption and unfettered commercialism and the most grievous elements of capitalism, there is no interest in information sharing. Not when such could lead to uncharted territory.
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