ONWARD, UPWARD!

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Transparency International reported that during 2019 Guyana climbed three points on the ladder of its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), and has registered its best score ever.
As I read the report, our serene, national patriotic song, “Onward upward may we ever go; day by day in strength and beauty show…” echoed.

With a score of 40, Guyana is ranked at 85th among 180 countries, and is listed as one of the countries that have significantly reduced corrupt practices.

BIG NEWS
This is big news for Guyana. It helps to project our image as a country with which others could do business. It also recognises that our country has been implementing better practices that promote confidence and integrity in our governance systems.
This achievement did not come easily in a country that, just a decade ago, was cited for pervasive corruption. The level of sleaze was responsible eventually for the removal of the PPP from government after an unbroken 23 years in office.

PERVASIVE CORRUPTION
The charge of “pervasive corruption” was first made by veteran party executive and former House Speaker Mr. Ralph Ramkarran (who quit the PPP and is now the presidential candidate of a new political party), and which was quickly re-affirmed by Dr. Cheddi (Joey) Jagan, whose parents had not only co-founded the PPP, but were former presidents of Guyana.

Widespread corruption (once cynically spelt with three Ps – corruPPPtion), was the reason for the motion of no confidence in 2014 against the former government. The motion contained 10 words, “That this National Assembly has no confidence in the government”. Those tiny words, I had explained, were extracted from the biblical Ten Commandments, one of which exhorted, “thou shall not steal!”

AUGEAN STABLES
It was no easy task for Guyana to wriggle out from the Augean Stables of corruption. Under the former regime monies from the public purse were spent without the approval of the National Assembly, and in defiance of specific disapproval by the House. Public funds were squandered on questionable contracts with cronies for blotched projects, such as the Specialty Hospital, the Amaila “road to nowhere”, single-sourced pharmaceuticals etc..
The former regime had refused to pass public procurement legislation which resulted in expenditure of public funds (in the tune of hundreds of billions) being compromised. It failed to re-establish an Integrity Commission, which reinforced the perception that public officials were not accountable.

For years our country incubated what has been described as the “parallel economy” which was stifling the commercial oxygen from the legitimate private sector. That underground economy was characterised by trading in contraband, narco-trafficking and money-laundering.

The unwelcome spin-offs were widespread kickbacks, extra-judicial killings, misappropriation of state resources, including improper allocation to friends of radio/television frequencies, forestry and mining concessions, and prime lands to state officials and friends.

MELEE OF CORRUPTION
In the ensuing melee of corruption a minister of government was assassinated, some 500 young people were “shot and killed” and there were separate episodes of massacres. Several officials of government were fingered in one type of excess or the other; some of them are now before the courts facing criminal charges. Among them are a former attorney general and the current PPP presidential candidate.

When the six-party APNU+AFC Coalition came to office, it inherited systemic corruption that had required Herculean efforts to cleanse. The Granger government quickly put in place the legislative and institutional framework to contain the excesses. These include laws on anti-money laundering and terrorism financing which in turn spawned the Financial Intelligence Unit, the national anti-narcotic agency, the special organised crime unit, and the state assets recovery agency.

The government was serious about stamping out corruption, drugs and crime. It brought back the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and re-established ties with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

While it remains an uphill task to fully uproot corrupt practices which had eaten into the sinews of our society, Guyana has come a long way. The results show that we are trying, and getting kudos for our efforts.

FLURRYING FLAGS
Those efforts, along with our emerging image as a stable, orderly, clean and “green” country, radiate a calm assurance of the re-election of the coalition government. Supporters are rallying with the coalition in huge numbers and with flurrying flags – all green and gold!

This gives the opposition no comfort. The PPP’s chief henchman, Mr. Jagdeo, was quoted as saying on Friday, “flags don’t win elections.” Funny that he should say that, as it was the PPP that had started what might have appeared to him as a “flag war.” What was more funny, if not shameful, was that the PPP placed a flag on every pole on which the coalition government had placed street lamps!

Besides, they stuck posters on the poles, one saying that the PPP would remove VAT and the other promising free university education. Funny, again, since it was Jagdeo’s PPP that had imposed the 16 per cent VAT (which the Coalition reduced by 2 per cent and will reduce down the road, incrementally); and it was the PPP that had introduced fee-paying at the University of Guyana.

But I had advised our campaign activists who were putting up flags that when the PPP go low, we must go high (paraphrasing the famous exhortation by Michelle Obama), and even put up bigger flags! Bigger is better!

SWEET CHORUS
Having surrendered in the “flag war”, Mr. Jagdeo tried to put some wind in the opposition sail by saying that everybody is complaining that they don’t have enough spending money. Of all the funny things that he could say, was that his hairdresser was also complaining. That must be either a sick joke, or a bald-headed lie!

But this is the silly season, and politicians are allowed space for both serious talk and idle prattle. Voters, however, will look critically at the corruption index. They will choose between those who had mired us in sleaze, and those who are cleaning the old, dirty slate.
On the lips of every voter must be the sweet chorus: “Onward, upward may we ever go!”
January 26, 2020.

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