Guyana: Bribery Has Become The Norm – By Annan Boodram
A young man, whose truck does almost daily trips from the Corentyne to Georgetown, was stopped by a policeman on the approaches to the Berbice River bridge, and cited for having a rider in the cab without a seat belt – there were three riders there but only two wore seat belts. So he had to bribe – $5,000 each on days one, two and three.
On the fourth day, he handed his cell phone to one of the riders and told him to hold the phone so it was visible to young policeman. Then he went up to the policeman and said, “You see that cell phone? I have pictures of you receiving money from me for the past three days. If you ever stop this truck again I will send those photos to newspapers and to your superiors.” That particular policeman never again stopped his truck again but was seen stopping other vehicles along the same stretch of road.
A drunken businessman was stopped by a policeman, who demanded his license and registration, and then told him, “Come to the station tomorrow and collect your documents.” The next day, upon the businessman’s arrival at the police station, a sum of $20,000 was demanded of him. After forking over the money he was given his documents and sent home.
Indeed bribery is the norm in Guyana. Yet the various audits commissioned by the current government focused significantly on corruption, real or perceived, with little mention of bribery, which has become embedded in every facet of life in Guyana. This writer has listened to narration of percentages built into contracts, of greasing hands to prevent the royal run around at every level of the bureaucracy, of drivers on the road preferring to give a ‘lil’ piece to the police rather than facing the hassle of going to court and losing much more in terms of earnings, of bribes speeding up every process from getting drivers license to obtaining copies of birth and death certificates.
The fact that the current government claimed that raising salaries of ministers was a move aimed at preventing bribery in an indication that the David Granger administration is fully aware of the pervasive nature of bribery in Guyana. So if raising salaries is the way to go then should not salaries be raised across the board? The fact, however, is that in Guyana bribes are often offered even before being asked for. When this is not done, a system of well-known, non-verbal cues are displayed to get the message across. This issue is compounded by the fact that Diaspora Guyanese, who do not want to be bothered by the hassle, will willingly shell out bribes for whatever.
In effect stamping out bribery is not about raising salaries, but rather about changing norms, behavior and any such impacting mechanism must be aimed at the entire equation – the bribe giver plus the bribe taker. Such a mechanism must also be institutionalized so it does not operate at the whims and fancies of anyone. It must be consistently applied and supported by the legal and other systems of consequences. So perhaps, since it’s the season of commission of inquiries (COI), how about one on bribery that would take evidence, foster consultations and then craft the desired mechanism? In the meanwhile a start can be made by the Police Complaints Authority, and other like minded institutions, ensuring that every allegation of bribery made is investigated in a timely manner and where necessary appropriate action taken.