January 9, 2000
In his Watchpost publication Bulletin Number 3 issued in December 2000 Mr Eusi Kwayana, for several decades the keeper of the public conscience, has returned to the attack on the issue of corruption. Mr Kwayana refers to a number of matters, some of which have been raised before by himself and other persons, including the cover up of frauds in government companies by dismissing the persons with no publicity, the failure of a State agency to file annual financial statements, the building of expensive homes by government officials at Ogle, tenders for public works and the issuing of contracts, the destruction by fire of a Ministry of Works building containing accounting records, the preferment of a particular consulting group, the road scam in l998 and the unsatisfactory development of land at Enterprise by a contractor in which Mr William Cox and others had bad experiences.
First, it must be said that there have been some achievements in the ongoing battle against corruption. First, an Integrity Commission has been set up by law to monitor the assets of ministers and a wide variety of public officials who have to file returns every year. That commission, for example, should be able to detect and question any unexplained rise in the assets of a minister. Secondly legislation that seeks to prevent money laundering has been passed and though the Supervisory Authority has not yet been set up the Minister of Finance says this will take place within the next two months. Thirdly, Auditor General Anand Goolsarran is producing the reports on government accounts annually, a major step forward, though he still needs more staff and his reports routinely reveal very poor record keeping in most ministries and state agencies, a legacy from another time when accountability had virtually collapsed. The Public Accounts Committee has also started to function again under Mr Dunstan Barrow.
So there has been some move in the direction of public accountability. On the other hand a revamped tender board, promised two years ago in a Budget speech, is yet to materialise. An internal PPP anti-corruption committee set up under Mrs Janet Jagan after the dismissal by the Ombudsman of a complaint by Mr Kwayana in connection with the sale of a car to Mr Nokta has apparently never functioned as there have been no reports of its activities, despite other incidents involving PPP parliamentarians. And the public was certainly not satisfied that satisfactory action had been taken in connection with the poor sea defence work at Mon Repos or the wharf at Charity. The clear impression has been given that contractors can get away with bad or overpriced work.
Government officials say there are very few efficient local contractors who can do sea defence work and build roads. The overseas contractors are not interested as the work to be done is not big enough to justify the cost of bringing their equipment here and setting up and their prices are too high. They argue, therefore, that the award of several contracts to one contractor does not indicate corruption but merely that that person has proved he can do the job. But it is certainly long overdue that a broad based tender board be put in place to end the widespread complaints of discrimination and corruption.
It would be good for the government to take some of Mr Kwayana's complaints seriously. When they came to power in l992 they had placed great emphasis on being lean and clean. To ignore these complaints does not give a good impression. If there are answers, they should be given. If contractors are being chosen because they qualify and can do the job and others can't this should be explained. If there was a good reason for not suing the contractors over the Mon Repos and Charity contracts this should be given. If one firm of consultants has proved more efficient thanothers, thus justifying their repeated employment, some effort should be made to explain this. Otherwise, people will draw adverse conclusions and there will be a loss of confidence.
The priorities should be setting up the new tender board and empowering the government information services to respond in detail to complaints, many of which at present go unanswered. And at some stage any government that is serious about development must tackle the problem of ministerial salaries that are still well below what they should be for jobs of that importance and responsibility.
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