Monday, September 29, 2008

The Transparency International report

The Transparency International report
Stabroek News. September 29, 2008 @ 5:01 am In Editorial | 7 Comments

When he dismissed the latest unflattering report of Transparency International (TI) on perceived corruption here, Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon employed one of the well-worn excuses of his administration by suggesting that those persons who might have been interviewed for the purposes of the survey might have had an anti-government stance.

It is one of the most enduring and distasteful of the weaknesses exhibited by PPP/C administrations since 1992: the tendency to equate professionalism and dissenting views with an oppositionist agenda. Dr Luncheon evinced no readiness to concede that the persons interviewed may have conveyed their professionally held views and that this was something that the government would seek to address.

The TI reports have been well thought of in influential circles internationally and the government would do well not to dismiss them so easily and unthinkingly.

With the highest perceived corruption in the English-speaking Caribbean, the government should consider what that might do in relation to the investment attractiveness of this location. Savvy investors will consult a multiplicity of sources about the investment climate here including TI so one of the immediate dangers is that this index could dissuade investors unless they are of the mercenary breed and prepared to pay bribes to plunder resources or the local market.

The other serious toll of corruption is the loss to the economy from evasion and smuggling, the loss to average citizen and taxpayer who is a victim of these acts and the renting of the fabric of uprightness of the society.

The findings of the TI report are unsurprising and not only because they are in line with the verdicts of previous years. There are strongly held views locally that corruption is entrenched at many levels of public business and in high places. Those views may not have shaken the ruling party in an electoral sense but they do exist and may have been the type that contributed to the TI assessment.

Broadly conceived, corruption would be the flouting or nullification of any law or procedure for inducement. While the average person might envisage it mostly in terms of evasion of taxes or avoidance of duties at ports or kickbacks in high-profile deals it also refers to every other engagement between the citizen and the machinery of the state such as the demanding of fees for the illegal reconnection of a utility service or for the placement of a child in a certain school or at a police check point.

Those acts in the every-day lives of Guyanese have become legend and there isn’t one among our midst who couldn’t readily recall with some mirth or awe a corrupt act either demanded or procured recently.

That is one level. Another exists in the rarified atmosphere of the corridors of power where big deals are hammered out. It doesn’t only refer to acts of outright corruption but also the opaqueness and silence – the ever darkening veil of officiousness around major deals – that is supposedly to protect investors from some unseen enemy but is more likely to spare the blushes of those engaged in the deal making.

What goes on away from the glare of public scrutiny can often lead to unremitting and unrequited questions which eventually spawn the perception that something has gone wrong. The deal for the QAII investment is a case in point. The government was caught promising concessions that were not catered for by the law and only after weeks of pillorying did it do the mature thing and offer its regret. There remain other disturbing questions about the fairness of this deal and it is a prime example why being above board and doing everything in the open is an important safeguard from.

The government has entertained a slew of these deals over the years including the secret MOU for the Buddy’s investment, the transaction for the National Archives building, the Kingston hotel information blackout etc. In addition if one were to refocus on abominations such as the export of dolphins from within the Office of the President and the ongoing concerns about the Fidelity probe and what it will expose about the shenanigans at the Customs and Trade Administration one can easily see where these TI perceptions may be generated from. Around 18 months after the completion of the world cup there is no accounting for the expenditure or a detailed description of the investment for it and there is still no credible account of the massive expenditure during the Great Flood of 2005.

Unless there is a clean and comprehensive break from the improper ways of doing things the ghosts will come back to haunt and remain on the radar of the corruption watchers. If the government were serious about dispelling these perceptions it wouldn’t do what Dr Luncheon essayed at his press conference. It would do what other countries high up in the TI rankings have done for many years: invest the money and resources in watch dog institutions such as the Office of the Auditor General, the dysfunctional Integrity Commission, the Ombudsman, the yet to be formed Public Procurement Commission (PPC) and others so that they could perform the functions of teasing out cases of corruption and addressing them. That is simply not happening at the moment. How can billions of taxpayers’ and donor money be disbursed annually minus a PPC and its tribunal without this stoking concern about the lack of transparency?

The government seems obstinately committed to the policies of opaqueness, unchecked discretion and silence in dealing with many matters of public importance. The fallout from this will continue to be reports of the sort that emanated from TI.

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