This is tenth entry in a series on the current state of civil society in Guyana
Transparency Institute Guyana Inc (TIGI) has observed that many people and some civil society organisations do not want to speak out about corruption taking place in the country because senior government officials are attempting to intimidate them into silence, its president, Frederick Collins, says.
“And some of the people who spoke out under the previous regime do not speak now. The irony of it is that only skilled propagandists can do that. Those propagandists seemed to have come up with a plan to accuse civil society, the people they cannot control, of not having spoken out during the 2020 elections imbroglio or not having spoken out either during the tenure of the last APNU+AFC administration, and that we are now only doing so.”
Noting that President Irfaan Ali was part of the team that attacked civil society earlier in the year and that civil society was being selectively ignored, Collins said, the current administration decides which laws they are going to ignore and what they are going to tell the public.
“There are members of the government who invite us to their consultations and then there is the other side that seems to want to attack us,” he said.
On the issues of transparency and accountability, Collins said, prior to the 2020 elections, in their representation to their funders, TIGI had reported that things were looking up and Guyana had turned the corner.
“We were soon to learn that some of the reasons why we thought so were going to disappear. It seems as though the Guyanese people took it for granted that from the mere return of certain people in the PPP/C, if not the whole of the PPP/C, to government, that they could no longer voice their concerns freely.”
It also appeared that once people voiced their concerns, their concerns were an attack on the government, he said.
“Even officials of the previous APNU+AFC government were of the impression they were being singled out for being attacked by civil society when they were criticised for their controversial actions. Both PPP/C and the coalition in government seemed to suffer from paranoia.”
Collins recalled being at a conference in Trinidad and Tobago when an APNU+AFC Member of Parliament, who was also at event, saw his name tag and said to him, “So you are TIGI. You suddenly find your voice.”
Collins said he laughed and responded that TIGI had been speaking out on issues that were of concern continuously. He said, “All of these parties have the same defect, mentality. They do not listen to you but if you say something they consider wrong, you bet their agents are listening. TIGI will not open its mouth and speak unless we have the facts. We don’t jump to speak on matters we don’t know nothing about.”
Noting that the courts were taking action as the 2020 elections matter was proceeding, he said, “There was no need for us to jump into the fray. Furthermore, we were involved in the recount.”
He said, there are intelligent people who are stupid enough to be manipulated and to allow themselves to be fooled by the politicians who are in the habit of asking “’Where were you when?’ As if the question cannot be answered. You would be surprised that lawyers have asked us that question. That is the history of that kind of attack.”
Shrinkage of civil society
At the recent summit involving Transparency International (TI), Collins said, global chapters of TI said they have observed a shrinkage of civil space all over the world since December 2020. “They have described attacks on the activities and voices of civil society by the powers-that-be and their attempts to reduce the space civil societies have in which they can speak and operate.”
He said, “Guyana is a country that loves to parrot what it sees everywhere else and we would be surprised if the powers-that-be and their acolytes are not imitating what they are seeing or what is going on around the world in terms of the limitation of civil society space because of corruption.”
Notwithstanding that fact, he said, “The governments of this country, both in fact, over the decades have never needed any incitement from outside for its officials to be involved in corrupt transactions. It will be a matter of opinion on which government has been more involved than the other.”
Campaign finance legislation
In relation to campaign financing in Guyana, Collins said he was astonished to learn that Guyana has finance campaign rules that are part of the Representation of the People Act but no one pays heed it.
“The penalties are so trivial that it is not worth activating the act. The parties in government are not interested in making it more stringent. That in itself tells you a story.”
Collins quoted Lee Kuan Yew (LKW), former Prime Minister of Singapore who in a 1960 publication said any country that does not have campaign finance legislation is going to be corrupt. Without campaign finance rules each party will get involved with people or businesses to finance their campaigns and those people or businesses have to be repaid.
“There is only one way they will surely be repaid and that is by favours, corrupt favours,” Collins said.
He quoted LKW as saying that corrupt favours take place during the procurement of goods and services. “This is where it all plays out. People will be manipulated to give the contracts to the financiers. LKW was speaking about countries in south east Asia but it appeared he was holding a map of Guyana when he spoke and observation holds good up to today.”
That TIGI has survived under the kind of culture that has become so acute to date, he said, is an achievement. “The attacks have had an effect on our membership and the few of us who are trying to make our presence felt have to deal with challenges of human resources and carrying out our activities. People feel as if by associating with us, they are being a traitor to their party. That applies to the parties in and out of government. We don’t get supporters of the coalition to join us either. We need to get people to fight corruption and who are transcendent above party. We don’t care which party member joins us.”
He added, “It is as if the culture in the country is one which expects that in order to benefit from party affiliation, the party has to be involved in corrupt transaction so they cannot associate with an organisation that is focused on anti-corruption.”
Noting that issues of corruption are well documented in this country, he said, TIGI deals with the issues on a risk assessment basis. “The big opportunities for theft and corruption in Guyana, at present is the oil and gas sector. That is what we have been focusing on. The oil industry is like an octopus, a hydra that has this country in its grips. It began even before the 1999 Esso contract and it continues in the current contract that was signed by the last administration. The contracts were the first manifestations of corruption or incompetence. It is either corruption or incompetence and we have said so over and over again.”
Meanwhile, Senior Minister in the Office of the President with responsibility for finance, Dr Ashni Singh, at the recently-held Guyana Anti-Corruption Frame-work training workshop hosted by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, said the PPP/C Government believes that effective instruments in the fight against corruption are openness, transparency and accountability and that the government believed “very strongly” and was “fully committed to the importance of the fight against corruption in all of its forms.”
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Governance, Gail Teixeira said government’s commitment was to not only uphold the constitution, democracy and human rights, but to strengthen mechanisms and measures necessary for greater transparency and accountability, inclusion and participation.
An example of this, she said, was the workshop and a similar one to be held later in the year for civil society.
Among those invited and present at the June 25th workshop were representatives from the Legal Affairs Ministry, Judicial Service Commission, Public Service Commission, Auditor General’s Office, Criminal Intelligence Department, National Procurement and Tender Board Administration, Institute of Chartered Accountants of Guyana, Financial Intelligence Unit, the Special Organised Crimes Unit, the Guyana Press Association and the Guyana Bar Association.
For this series, it should be noted that the Sunday Stabroek sought an interview with the secretary of the Guyana Bar Association on what appears to be the diminishing role of civil society in relation to governance and democracy. However, the secretary declined the interview based on “the instruction of the Council of the Bar Association.”
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