This cannot be tolerated Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
December 20, 2001

FRAUD and corruption are endemic in many Third World countries and in several parts of the so-called developed world.

The scourge has bled desperately needed resources from impoverished countries and it is even worse when the tentacles are spread across state agencies.

When crooks steal from the state, they steal from the people and pocket funds that could help develop badly rundown social and other infrastructure.

There have been persistent allegations about corruption at government ministries, state agencies and departments and in the regional system here and the fears mounted yesterday with the official announcement that financial fraud and corrupt practices involving millions of dollars has been uncovered at the Wildlife Unit of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Fisheries, Crops and Livestock.

This is not the first time that the Government has expressed concern about stealing and corrupt practices at state agencies and ministries but the situation has clearly reached the stage where a co-ordinated and sustained campaign has to be implemented to root out the cancer.

There have been anti-corruption campaigns in the past, especially at the Customs department which was once so notorious that a special fraud squad had to be established to deal with the situation there.

The cancer had also spread deeply in other state departments where even the most routine of official business could not have been conducted without bribes.

There have improvements and the corruption is not as rampant as it once was.

But stealing from the state cannot be tolerated and the announcement and outrage expressed yesterday by Dr. Roger Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat and Cabinet Secretary, shows that there is indeed more than cause for worry.

He may not have told the full story because investigations are continuing but the authorities have to move swiftly to bring all involved to justice.

The public also would not be satisfied with mere dismissals of public officers found to be involved and sustained efforts would have to be made to place all before the courts.

It is fine for the administration to express its outrage at the level of financial fraud and corruption which continues to be uncovered but justice demands firmer action.

Petty shoplifters and deviants who smoke dope are often jailed and those who bleed the public treasury should be subjected to even firmer punishment.

Even paying back money pilfered from the state would not suffice because a firm and tough message has to be sent throughout the society that corruption would not be tolerated at any level and that those who steal would be jailed.

If the incidence and prevalence of corrupt and fraudulent practices is high in the public sector, it is time for the authorities to go on the war footing.

No half measures would suffice.