President fingers Customs for corruption

Guyana Chronicle
January 30, 2000

PRESIDENT Bharrat Jagdeo has declared that the Customs Department is "renowned for corruption" but notes that steps to clean up the section are usually dubbed political.

"We all know that there is corruption in that department. You have Patrol Officers and Junior Officers who come into the service and work for three, four months and they can buy a car and a house.

"Senior civil servants who worked their whole life can never be able to own the assets that those people own", he said on the GTV 11 `This Week with the President' programme.

"...they don't have any political loyalty, whether it's PPP or PNC. Their loyalty is to money and greed.

"But (when we) try to move against some of these corrupt becomes a political issue," the Head of State said.

He said the issue of politics should not hinder efforts to "clean up the country".

"If we have less revenue collected, then we can't pay the rest of the civil service. This country knows about the corruption that takes place there (Customs), yet you can't take strong action because it becomes too political," the President remarked.

He added: "I know that those people have very long arms in those departments when they are corrupt and they have friends in many places, including the media and often they air their side of the views".

The President noted that the private sector call for the establishment of the Revenue Authority is expected to help tremendously in the fight against corruption.

The new agency was established last week to streamline collection of state revenue after Justice Carl Singh dismissed a challenge to its formation.

On the programme, President Jagdeo reiterated his call for Guyanese to work together in the fight against corruption and to have a common position on this issue.

"We at the government level have to work based on information that we receive and people coming forward," he said, noting that the Auditor General has done some work in the fight against corruption.

He said more support will be given to the Auditor General to further assist in "rooting out corruption in many agencies".

"If people of this country want us to deal with corruption...they must also cross racial lines and political lines, support government initiatives and tackle corruption...And not (think) because he is PPP he is untouchable or because he is PNC he is untouchable..."

President Jagdeo said he met the Chairman of a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) of a city school at Freedom House, headquarters of the governing PPP (People's Progressive Party) and at Cabinet.

"The gentleman has accumulated a stack of evidence against a particular administrator of the school, including discrepancies in accounting for monies, among other things...

"(He) has been trying to get something done against that person. He said to me that (at) the Ministry (of Education) there are officials within the ministry who cover this up at the official level," the President explained.

"So there is complicity even from other officials trying to cover up what is happening at that particular school. This is a problem that we face in Guyana," he added.

"I told him to take the matter to the Auditor General and (Finance) Minister (Sasenarine) Kowlessar...and probably the Police.

"When we try to tackle corruption it becomes a political issue. And if you don't tackle it, you are accused of not tackling it...when you move against people, there are charges of discrimination and political witch-hunting and all kinds of issues".

He said he hopes to get full support from a wide cross section of the population because it is one of the ways of bringing about a more efficient Customs and Inland Revenue Department.

The President said that Cabinet has agreed to ratify the Organisation of American States (OAS) Convention on Corruption in Public Life.

He said he is going to amend the Integrity Legislation and have all revenue officers declare their assets.

"I need the support of the country in fighting these things. You will be surprised to see that we can sit and say it is in Guyana's interest but people, because of narrow ends (and) for very selfish reasons, would try to defend the system when you move against certain people," the President pointed out.