Kaieteur News Editorial, Sunday 20 September 2009 - "GOOD MEN AND WOMEN MUST ACT!" - http://www.kaieteurnewsonline.com/2009/09/20/good-men-and-women-must-act/
The State and government both have an obligation in free societies to support the media by allowing access to public officials and information. The availability of this information contributes to an enlightened polity and thus informed choices. The ability to make such choices strengthens democracy and creates conditions whereby citizens feel that their views will not only be known but acted upon, thereby reducing the chasm between politicians and the people and brining the latter closer to the decision-making process. In this regard, the media acts as a conduit between the policymaker and the citizens, allowing a flow of information and feedback.
The media is also the watchdog for citizens, guarding against excesses and incompetence, corruption and ineptitude. The media as a watchdog serves a function that benefits the people, the State and government.
In Guyana today, it would seem as if there is a lack of appreciation by the government for the important role the media plays as a watchdog. The trials and tribulations that this newspaper has been subjected to simply for reporting on matters of public concern has reached the stage whereby it is being forced to defend a slew of libel cases, but even more tragically, is having grave difficulties in obtaining matters which any government ought to have been willing to provide readily to the media.
After this newspaper broke certain stories in the media, one minister actually encouraged the media to continue its work, by asking for the help of the media in monitoring all government contracts falling under his portfolio.
However, despite repeated requests to government officials for information on certain contracts, this newspaper remains empty-handed, thereby making a mockery of that minister’s invitation to the media. This newspaper has also sought additional information concerning contracts in the education sector. We are still waiting.
How then is the public interest served? How can we provide the necessary investigative journalism when there is a virtual embargo against us when it comes to obtaining information on government tendering, something that has been the subject of major controversy in this country?
We shall continue to persevere and keep the nation informed as to our frustrations in obtaining details of government projects. We however remain open to exploring all avenues so as to bring matters of public importance to the people. As such, if the doors of officialdom continue to be slammed shut in our faces, we shall pursue our cause through the international financial institutions that fund public works since all of these institutions and also the donor countries are, we believe, firmly committed to openness and transparency in the award of contracts funded by these countries and international financial institutions.
Not all contracts are, of course, funded by the international financial institutions. As we have seen there is significant work being undertaken using resources obtained from taxpayers. These taxpayers have an obligation to know how every cent of their money is being spent. This newspaper therefore will continue to make efforts to bring to the attention of the public how their monies are being used, regardless of how often we are rebuffed.
There are, of course, other bodies in whose faces doors cannot be shut and who can play an important role, in keeping with their mandates, in ensuring public transparency and accountability. We refer here to the Office of the Auditor General who has powers to investigate whether public funds have found its way into anyone’s bankbook and whether there has been value for money in relation to works executed with the use of public funds.
The Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly is also empowered to demand records and interrogate public officials about the use of public funds. We hope that when the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly is convened, it will as the first order of business summon the requisite parties and demand explanations as to the award of the contracts, particularly those that have in recent weeks been highlighted in this newspaper.