Is Guyana on the brink of a new anti-corruption culture? – By Freddie Kissoon

Is Guyana on the brink of a new anti-corruption culture?

This is likely to be quite a busy week at the courts, where several former high level public officials and some still in active service will face charges related to corruption.

There is no such charge as corruption, but the specific indictments fall under the rubric of acts of corruption. This country has had no persistent policy of bringing corrupt ruling politicians and public sector bigwigs for financial venalities. There were episodic moments under the Burnham regime, when President Burnham took stern action against his subordinates that he believed were involved in financial wrong-doing.    

One can recall Prime Minister Burnham’s dismissal of Minister of Commerce, George King. When Vic Puran, the former lawyer who is now deceased, crossed from the PPP to the PNC, Burnham put him in the remigration scheme and shortly after, Puran was detained at Eve Leary for questioning by police officer “Skip Roberts.” It was under Prime Minister Burnham that the Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Education Ministry, Claude Vieira was convicted of fraud before Justice Massiah in the High Court and jailed.

Dr. Jennifer Westford (left) and Margaret Cummings

These were anti-corruption pursuits that Mr. Burnham was not given credit for. Analysts tend to gloss over some of these positive aspects of Mr. Burnham’s politics. The essentialist approach to anti-corruption was personified by President Desmond Hoyte. Clothed with a Westminster approach to politics and schooled in the politics of professional public service, Mr. Hoyte stands out as Guyana’s only leader that did not tolerate corruption. He consented to the appointment of a tribunal to investigate Justice Barnwell for attempting to offer then Chief Magistrate, Claudette La Bennett, a bribe to free an accused.

Nizam Hassan

Omar Shariff

Hoyte allowed Minister Robert Corbin to be charged and the then head of the army, Godwin McPherson for theft of a shipment of shoes from importer Glenn Lall, the publisher of this newspaper. But it was the murder charge of Rabi Washington that Hoyte is best known for as a disciplinarian president.

When Hoyte lost the election, the flame of Guyana’s anti-corruption culture was extinguished. This was one of the greatest ironies in the history of anti-corruption politics. It was Cheddi Jagan who succeeded Hoyte as president. For all his life, Jagan was seen as a modest man, crazy about implementing communism and totally uninterested in expanding his financial standing. Prior to assuming office, Jagan was never accused of any financial crime.

But it was under President Jagan that the death of Hoyte’s anti-corruption culture occurred. Amazed at the amount of money they saw at their disposal, Jagan’s ministers and his party officials went wild. Jagan was given solid information that his science advisor, Navin Chanderpaul was taking money from Omai Goldfields  and was building a mansion in Pradoville One. One former Ambassador under the PPP told me the PPP leadership had discussed the corruptibility of Chanderpaul, but Jagan did not want to act against him. Mrs. Jagan refused to enter the home of Mr. Chanderpaul.

Carvil Duncan

Anil Nandlall

Allegations against Jagan’s mandarins were spiraling out of control, but President Jagan chose politics over the anti-corruption culture of his two predecessors – Burnham and Hoyte. By the time he died in 1997, all the efforts of Burnham and Hoyte to rein in public officials who steal were virtually dead.  After 2000, Guyana became known as one of the corruption capitals of the world under Bharrat Jagdeo. There is an old saying; “there are no secrets in a small town.” For obvious reasons, names cannot be cited here, but the Jagdeo/Ramotar cabals just did what they wanted with the resources of Guyana.

People became rich overnight. One man became a Minister and soon after built a mansion with a swimming pool. The analyst does not know where to start to describe corruption under Jagdeo and Ramotar; suffice it to say, it took four forms. One is skimming money off of public expenditure in areas like construction and infrastructural development. This raked in billions of dollars, some of which brought properties under the names of different people. Some of this money is reportedly in foreign bank accounts.

The second dimension was bribery. Companies paid enormous bribes to facilitate investment. In the mining area, the bribes were huge. The third compartment was selling state resources for a song. PPP officials and their friends bought up riverside real estate and GuySuco lands and mining concessions and later sold them and collected billions. This newspaper has pointed out the cheap rate Eddie Boyer bought public land behind Giftland Mall for and the high prices that were obtained after some of those plots were sold.
The other two aspects are money-laundering and drug-trafficking. We now can fast forward the tape to post-May 2015.
SOCU, originally set up by the PPP Government, was a white elephant until the Coalition Government came into being. Not long after it came to power, the Coalition Government was given Cabinet approval to allow SOCU to become a professional outfit. One former Minister, Jennifer Westford and her aide were charged for fraud totalling close to a billion dollars. Westford was also charged for allegedly stealing vehicles belonging to the state.

PPP underling, Carvil Duncan has been charged for fraud on GPL.  Anil Nandlall for stealing state property; Nizam Hassan when he was in the employ of the Guyana Marketing Corporation; Omar Shariff for financial activities that allegedly involves money-laundering. The Rasul gold case is going to shock this society as more details come in. But it is SARA that will take Guyana by storm.
Headed by Guyanese icon, Clive Thomas, SARA has evidence of corruption that will shock the world. SARA is painstakingly doing its research because each case is complicated. But former Ministers will be placed before the courts. The issue with Bharrat Jagdeo is whether he has immunity. SARA gives a figure of one and a half trillion dollars that have been stolen through corrupt means from the State under the presidencies of Jagdeo and Ramotar. In the months to come, Guyana will see the flourishing of the rebirth of the anti-corruption culture that started with Forbes Burnham almost fifty years ago.

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