September 30, 2016

Transparency International and Corruption in Guyana

That Guyana ranked 119 out of 167 countries (zero means clean) and received a score of 29 out of 100 (100 means excellent) by International Corruption Perception Index (CPI) in 2015 is not shocking. The ranking and scoring by CPI strike at the core of Guyana’s long standing problem: corruption and more corruption. Perhaps, it is too much to ask for accountability at this stage, but surely, this recurring solemn news cannot be avoided.

To recall, CPI was conducted by Transparency International (TI), a civic organisation fighting and revealing corruption across the globe. Since its launching in 1995, TI has revealed some damning evidence of corruption. Some may argue that the methodology of TI is questionable because the findings are based on perceptions rather than objective quantitative analysis.

Nonetheless, the consistency of the findings cannot be easily dismissed since they tend to match local realities: conflict of interest, bribery, misuse of power, misconduct, clientelism, skewed tendering process, etc, of those in power. After all, the aim and purpose of TI is not to target specific regimes in specific countries but to reveal the injustices meted out to innocent citizens by elected officials through the use of state resources for personal gains and aggrandisement.

I would argue that TI was generous in giving Guyana the above scores. I would place Guyana around 17 of out 100 since the real nature of corruption is difficult to unearth. This ranking would place Guyana alongside Haiti and Venezuela as the most corrupt countries in the region. I take this pessimistic position because everywhere you go in Guyana, from Charity to Crabwood Creek, people are looking and asking for a “lil raise.” You got to be living under a rock not to know what a “lil raise” means in Guyana. Greasing the palm is as common as saying good morning and good afternoon in Guyana.

Corruption, by its hidden nature, is difficult to define. Corruption is simply when elected officials or employees use public or state resources for personal or private gains. Put simply, the misuse of power by those who control the levers of power. Corruption, as one UN official puts it, is public enemy number one. For this reason, corruption is not hard to recognise.

The recent demise of 17 prisoners is a prime example of corruption. This is not a national tragedy. It is Guyana’s first prison genocide. Much has been said why it happened but if inadequate wage given to the prison staff continues, if the reliance on the family and friends of remand prisoners by prison staff for kickbacks continues, and if the waiting long periods for trails, and treatment of remand prisoners continues then expect more ominous news.

Equally troubling is a lack of meaningful connection between the prison system and the Ministry of Security, namely under Kemraj Ramjattan. This man must take full responsibility or step down. Someone, some people, something somewhere have to take responsibility for 17 deaths since these deaths occurred under watch of the current regime.

I urge family members of the prisoners to take this matter to the highest level, including the international court. I urge these families not to be gullible and accept $100.000 each ($US500) offered by the government. I urge these families not to rely on the findings of the government-appointed Commission of Inquiry. Ask for or conduct your own independent inquiry. To do otherwise would be counterintuitive to the general welfare of prisoners in Guyana.

There are myriad reasons why the carnival of corruption is high in Guyana. The lackadaisical and quixotic approach to work because of low wages and limited incentives, especially in the civil service and the disciplined forces, encourage corruption.

People accept jobs knowing that they will make additional money on the side through bribery and kickbacks. They also know that the penalty for engaging in corruption is hardly punishable. The penalty structure for corruption in Guyana is extremely weak because it is implicitly corrupt.

Corruption is also encouraged when top officials do not send the appropriate message and demonstrate positive image of themselves. The mere fact that government ministers gave themselves lucrative salary increases and denied the same to a majority of Guyanese does not bode well for morality and ethics on the job. Some may blow the whistle or choose to whisper about corruption and may receive ridicule and chastisement for doing so. The norm, however, is to toe the line, participate in corruption and turn a blind eye because they believe their superiors are corrupt. (lomarsh.roopnarine@jsums.edu)

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