Friday, December 12, 2008


Stabroek News: December 12, 2008 in Business, Editorial

Here we go again! The latest word on the report regarding the alleged Fidelity/Customs fraud is that the investigation is now finished and that, as of last Friday, the report has been completed and awaiting the scrutiny of the President. At least this is what another section of the media, the Kaieteur News says it has been told by the Acting Auditor General.

Mind you, more than a week ago and having failed to secure an update on the status of the report from the Acting Auditor General, a Stabroek News reporter was told by another source in the Auditor General’s Office that the report had in fact been completed some time earlier and that it simply remained for it to be sent to the Presidential Secretariat.

Both accounts, of course, cannot be true and while we cannot say which of the two is accurate, the evidence clearly suggests that one of the two was misleading. It is of course by no means uncommon for the ‘management’ of official information on sensitive issues (and this particular issue is both sensitive and potentially damaging to the government and the GRA) to be badly bungled when it is felt that revelation of the truth can be embarrassing and both the Office of the Auditor General and the Government of Guyana need to understand that the conflicting signals that are being sent regarding the status of the report can have the effect of giving rise to public suspicion about the content of the report which, of course, would be a pity.

One can perhaps understand the jitteriness of the Office of the Auditor General in responding to media enquiries about the report. Those jitters are clearly the result of their acute awareness of a prevailing media culture that prohibits public comment on sensitive issues even by the most senior public officials, placing responsibility for both the manner in which that information is communicated to the public in the hands of either the Head of the Presidential Secretariat or the President himself.

It would of course be wrong to prejudge the outcome of the investigation even though it is entirely reasonable to assume that the allegations of a conspiracy to deny the public treasury millions of dollars did not simply materialize out of thin air. Something clearly happened and we need to be told the truth about what happened and who the players in the drama were.
With President Jagdeo now out of the country on official duties it is difficult to say when the report will be brought to his attention and when, indeed, if, its contents will be made public. Certainly, however, given the fact that in the immediate aftermath of the alleged Fidelity/Customs fraud being made public the President had openly frowned on what he described as “scams” and shakedowns” inside Customs, one would expect that he would wish to deal with the report expeditiously.

Of course, it will not be enough for the public to be told who is guilty and who is innocent since whether we like it or not Guyanese have long become cynical of such cut and dried pronouncements that never really get to the heart of the matter. As we have argued in a previous editorial, except the full details of the investigation – including what, if anything, went on between Fidelity and the Customs, who were the functionaries involved, what organizational procedures and rules (if any) were broken and the processes that led to a determination of guilt or otherwise – are made public, it really would be better to say nothing at all since nothing short of a level of disclosure that allows the public to make up its own mind will be enough to staunch the inevitable groundswell of cynicism; and as we have also argued previously the government would have only itself to blame if in the absence of full disclosure its credibility on the issue of its commitment to fighting corruption is further eroded.

The other issue that we have raised previously – and which we consider important to raise again – is whether the investigation and what we understand to be the completed report will take account of the President’s promise of a wider investigation into the operations of Customs, which will allow for a probe of aspects of the operations of the Guyana Revenue Authority or whether that promise will simply disperse like chaff in the wind.

We now know – at least we think we do – that the report is now complete and awaiting the attention of the President. In the circumstances it would do everyone, including the government, a power of good if the President’s pronouncement on the report and its attendant full disclosure can be made with maximum alacrity; before Christmas would not be a bad idea.

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