GUYANA UNDER SIEGE
The PPP: A New Legacy of Corruption?
|by Rakesh Rampertab|
Corruption. The word is as agonizing as rape and murder. Over the last few years, the PPP government has come under severe criticism both from the general public and the Opposition, as being a corrupt state unit. Is this government indeed corrupt, or are such claims mere “hogwash,” as Minister Xavier rebutted?
Popular Claims: according to the Opposition, sea defense and roadwork contracts are being awarded to a selected few contractors who have good ties with the PPP, while others are given “token” awards. BK International (BKI) that has a creditable record has been awarded numerous contracts, while the Guyana Construction Company Limited (Guyco) claimed it suffered “victimization.” Recently, Mr. Jerome Khan (PNC/R) asserted that the Cummings Electrical Company has been overpaid ($6 m) for the installation of streetlights from the Russian Embassy to Better Hope, ECD, while Ms. Amna Ally (PNC/R, Region 5) contended that “carpenters and cutlass” workers are being used by contractors as skilled engineers.
Failed Projects: The area of Mahaica to Mahaicony, she claimed, has been receiving money for bridge repairs ceaselessly for years, yet brides never seem to be completed. A koker on the upper East Coast, crumbled one month after being built. Some of the first condemned projects were the new wharf at Charity that sunk and the sea defense built at Mon Repos that breached. Bridges along the East Coast highway, like the bridge constructed at Mandela Avenue in Georgetown, began to sink just months after being constructed, and village roads that were asphalted (First Street, Grove, EBD), began to break up into potholes.
In addition to the "stone scam" in which poor quality stones were used for construction by a Trinidadian construction company, many suspect that unskilled workers were used as skilled engineers, thus the flawed end results. Another claim asserted that while contractors employed unskilled people for many works, they submitted budgets to the government claiming wages for engineering professionals.
Responding to Mr. Khan, the Public Works and Communication minister, Mr. Anthony Xavier, claimed that the additional payments to Cummings Electrical Company were due to; "unforeseen ground conditions," resurfacing of road, and purchasing of new cables to satisfy the Guyana Power and Light Company's request that such was necessary to extend their primary cables for safety concerns. GPLC had refused to provide current if this wasn't done.
While this sounds acceptable, the ideas of "unforeseeable" and resurfacing factors that constitute an additional $6 m (at least 40% of original contract value of $13 m), should be questioned, especially since one expects engineers to take these common factors into consideration. Besides, who is to say that these claims are indeed correct, and match up the dollar amounts paid out? Despite BKI's impressive records, one has to raise questions about the PPP party using BKI equipment and vehicles during its elections campaign. And why are some contracts advertised to certain contractors before it's advertised publicly, giving them more time to prepare for the competitive bidding process than others?
In another round of accusations, the Opposition Leader called the Ministry of Housing and Water (MH&W) a "den of corruption." He criticized the PPP for the fire at the MH&W building, saying it's an attempt to destroy records since an audit is scheduled soon. It sounds ridiculous, but is it? In 1996, the Ministry of Works building also burned down shortly before an audit was to be done. Neither the Police nor the Fire Service has filed reports of the cause of fire. The PPP claimed that it was electrical and that was the end of the issue.
It has been documented (by the PNC/R and acknowledged in the press) that more than 200 people have paid for housing lots in Sophia Housing Area alone (Fields A, B, and C) but are still to receive them. If we were to discards this as mere backlogged cases, how about people with receipts for house lots who cannot find matching payments in the ministry's record? Is money being accepted and not accounted for?
Thirdly, the contract to update the laws of Guyana for US$222,500 awarded to the New York based New Global Consults Inc., is filled with cracks. First, the contract was not advertised locally because, according to Mr. Kowlessar, the current Finance Minister, he did not think anyone has the capability of providing CDs. Second, one of the key persons in preparing the contract is not a legal expert in any way, and a sample copy from New Global was sent to only one law student for a review. Third, New Global is owned partially by one Mr. Kawal Totaram, a well-known PPP campaigner. Finally, most disturbing is the fact that the Office of the President (OP) tried to blame the Ministry of Legal Affairs (MLA) for the contract.
The President vs. the Ministry of Legal Affairs: According to the OP, money from the Guyana Treasury was allocated without the knowledge of the Cabinet, instead of coming from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), with a "no objection" statement attached to the purse. But the Permanent Secretary of the MLA (Ganga Persaud) denied both of these claims, noting that the Cabinet had an approval (13/02/2001), and a memo from the Chairman of the Central Tender Board (responsible for awarding contracts) was issued. Isn't the president aware of what projects the Cabinet approved (all motions are logged)? Or, was he expecting MLA to accept the blame?
These cases unquestionably point to incognito activities by the Government of Guyana. They force us to raise questions such as why did President Jagdeo mix investment promotion (as Chairman of the Investment Board) with his political campaign, as he did in Texas during the last elections? Shouldn't the two issues be kept apart, one being national interest and the other party? Did he use his role as chief national investment promoter to garnish funds for his party?
PPP officials have been refusing to answer these questions by the Opposition, referring constantly to the PNC era of mismanagement. If the PNC has no right to ask the PPP about corruption, which obviously isn't so, then you still have a public that wants answers. We recognize that every government will have its moments of misconduct, but there are too many suspicious scenarios leaking from the PPP administration not to be really concerned. As concerned individuals, we suggest that the following be done to curtain and eventually eliminate all room for favoritism, bureaucratic discrimination, and corruption.
What Should be Done
Implement a Code of Conduct: for all parliamentarians, cabinet members, officers of registered political parties, and government officials. Set up an independent non-political council with rotating members to review cases or allegations of corruption, etc., which will, if necessary send it to court.
Establish an Impartial and Non-political Tender Board: to oversee the local advertising, awarding, and satisfactory completion of all contracts. If such already exists, then it should be revamped with rotating term limits, amongst other features to rid it of favoritism, etc. Implement a cap on the amount of financial contributions contractors (all entrepreneurial organizations) are allowed to make to political campaigns. Establish laws to require public declaration of campaign contributions, and the name of the recipient party. All tendering and consideration must be transparent and above board. Any affiliation with, or any possible conflict of interest, must also be disclosed, both by contractors and members of the Tender Board. Establish severe penalties (withholding of contracting license) for bribery.
Implement an Independent Non-political Discrimination Watchdog Group: to investigate ALL allegations of victimization and discrimination. The Group must have investigative powers, and adequate resources, and be empowered to offer appropriate redress. It should comprise of an equal number of members from at least four races. This Group might be linked with the Public Service Appellate, since many of its functions may be similar.
Guyana is too racially divided to tolerate victimization and discrimination, which inevitably affects the progress of the entire nation and not just an individual person or race. Guyana is too poor to tolerate corruption, which enriches the rich at the expense of the poor. Guyana has too many real social problems to allow for any kind of corruption, particularly by elected public officials. For these simple but grave reasons, corruption has to be arrested now!
© 2001 Guyanaundersiege.com