By Ravin Singh
GENERAL-Secretary of the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Clement Rohee, has agreed with many that there is a perception abroad that his party, while in government, was corrupt, even as he contends that “perception is a reality.”Rohee’s remarks were made on Tuesday during the PPP’s weekly press conference, which was held at the party’s Freedom House Headquarters.
Speaking about perceptions currently enveloping the political atmosphere in Guyana, Rohee said the subject is of importance to any society.
“Perception is important in any society. As they say, perception is reality, and I’d like to emphasise that. And we can’t view that selectively; it is a general, universally accepted social and psychological phenomenon, that perception is reality,” he said.
But with the PPP having been accused on countless occasions in the past of being corrupt, Rohee was asked if this perception, too, was a reality.
He responded by stating that it was not for him to say whether the notion was true or false.
“It is not for me to say that. Why should I say that? That is a general perception out there,” he said.
The PPP stalwart also took jabs at several media houses, including the Guyana Chronicle, stating that they are helping to feed that perception about the PPP being corrupt.
Said he: “They are helping to reinforce that perception; when we were in government and now that we are in the Opposition. And now the government is being driven by media houses to deal with that matter by setting up SARU [State Asset Recovery Unit]. So let’s take it from there.”
Asked again, more specifically, if he believes the notion that the PPP is corrupt was indeed a reality, as he had earlier articulated, Rohee replied: “Don’t worry with what I believe; my belief is my belief.”
In 2013 and 2014 the then PPP government refused to accept international corruption watchdog, Transparency International’s corruption perception index.
The 2014 results revealed that Guyana remains behind its Caribbean Community (CARICOM) counterparts, ranking 124th out of 175 countries. The only CARICOM nation that was ranked below Guyana was Haiti, which placed at 161.
However, according to former President Donald Ramotar in a letter published in the Guyana Times on April 5, 2016:
“While there is no denying that corruption existed during the PPP/C administration, it has been highly exaggerated.”
He went on to state that the fact remains that “the [APNU+AFC] regime has failed to identify any major corrupt practice/s that they previously expounded so much about, while the forensic audits have failed to reveal corrupt practices/transactions.”
Upon securing victory at the May 11 polls last year, one of the first moves of the new government was to embark on forensic audits into State agencies to find out whether acts of corruption had been perpetrated at those entities. But several of the audits have shown irregularities at multiple agencies.
For instance, an audit into the financial operations and functioning of the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) project has revealed that over 1900 laptops, totalling in excess of $115M, are currently unaccounted for, while defective laptops have taken the total losses to over $300M.
Another audit into the operations of the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority (NDIA) has revealed that contracts issued by the Authority were mismanaged, while over $9M was spent on fuel for vehicles that were described as “not working.”
In addition to several other irregularities uncovered by the auditors, former Public Service Minister under the PPP Jennifer Westford and her Personnel Officer (PO) Margaret Cummings appeared before the court to face larceny and forgery charges, respectively, last year.
The charges were in connection with the alleged illegal transfer of eight vehicles to themselves and friends, which were the property of the government. The 42-year-old former minister was slapped with four counts of attempting to commit a felony and was granted $800,000 bail.
And despite these incidents being highlighted in the audits, Ramotar contended that this “smear campaign is being sensationalised” by the very media who inculcated the belief in Guyanese that everything the PPP/C did was corrupt.
He went on to suggest that “the mere fact that nothing of substance is being discovered by the auditors is clear evidence that the perception of corruption under the PPP/C administration was engineered by speculation and distortion [and not based on reality].”