SOCIAL media was abuzz on Saturday with opposition spokespersons trying to put a spin on Minister Cathy Hughes’ observations that corruption had become a culture in our society. This acknowledgement by the minister is what is required if we are going to eliminate this scourge that had become entrenched under the previous administration.
In fact, one of the distinctive features of the PPP administration was that of corruption. The reality and perception of corruption during the Jagdeo/Ramotar era is unquestionable. With the change of government came a new sense of hope that the days of systemic dishonesty could finally be put behind us. While this hope remains largely intact, Guyanese are now coming to terms with the fact that eradicating corruption is a huge undertaking.

Corruption – the abuse of entrusted power for personal gain – indeed has become entrenched in almost every facet of life in Guyana. The reasons for this are complex. The fact that a corrupt administration had occupied the corridors of power for 23 years prior to the election of the APNU+AFC coalition and had the time to influence Guyana’s culture, is certainly a major factor. Another one is the truth that citizens take their cues from their leaders and having had corrupt leaders for so long, the culture of dishonesty was bound to rub off on many Guyanese.

The result of those and other dynamics was the installation of a mindset of deceit. In those days, politicians were openly practising graft, influence-peddling, fraud, and theft on a grand scale. The judicial branch of government was affected. A culture of bribery and extortion, therefore, became the norm in law enforcement, other agencies, and the general public service. Rooting out such an evil will necessarily be difficult.

The reasons for corruption are known and Guyana was a textbook example of the phenomenon. The greed for money and power found fertile ground in a society which was ethnically and economically divided; had inefficient administrative structures; had gender and geographic inequalities; dubious democratic credentials; and weak accountability and transparency. So, the answer to the question of how to begin to undo Guyana’s corruption problem is to eliminate that fertile ground. Additionally, systems would need to be put in place to actively discourage corrupt practices, replace the culture of corruption with one of adherence to the rule of law and foster a structure of democratic governance.

It is immediately obvious that the APNU+AFC administration is working towards those ends; the social breeding grounds for corruption are being eliminated. Inequalities are being addressed within the framework of establishing a cohesive society. Citizen empowerment, including regular local government renewal, is being pursued.

Legislative systems are being strengthened, too. The State Assets Recovery Bill was passed in the National Assembly in April 2017, making it possible for citizens to recover state assets that were stolen by corrupt officials. In January 2018, the Protected Disclosures Bill was passed. This legislation, commonly called the whistleblower law, will protect citizens who report corruption.

It is understandable that Guyanese are impatient for the culture of corruption to be rooted out. After all, it is the citizens who suffered under the yoke of an alleged corrupt regime. Substandard roads, incomplete bridges, structurally unsafe schools, white-elephant projects, high prices of goods and other ills were the norm in those days. However, as was noted, undoing such an entrenched system is difficult. As was noted too, progress is being made on all fronts. This year January the nation was told through media reports that Guyana had been listed by Transparency International as one of 20 countries that have significantly improved its rating in the fight against corruption in the past seven years, a feat which has been hailed as progressive, since under the previous administration it was in the category as a corrupt country.

The report noted: “In the last seven years, only 20 countries significantly improved their CPI scores, including Estonia, Senegal, Guyana and Côte D’Ivoire,” the 2018 Corruption Perception Index report stated. Guyana now stands with a score of 37 and is ranked at 93 out of the 180 countries. Last year Guyana scored 38 points and was ranked at 91, while in 2017 it scored 34. In 2015 when the coalition Government took office Guyana was ranked at 119 with a score of 29 while in 2014, 2013 and 2012 it scored 30, 27 and 28 respectively, which placed it in the category of corrupt countries.

President David Granger is committed to confronting the problem. The President said, “Corruption like a malignant cancer cannot be cured by being ignored.” He was at the time addressing the 2018 Police Officers conference. And, as is the case with all social issues, all citizens have a part to play. For example, a corrupt police officer cannot solicit and receive a bribe if citizens refuse to cooperate and instead, report the offender.