Too many scams and no action
By Michael Benjamin
July 19, 2004
Guyanese are reeling as one scandal after the other continues to rock this nation. Ever since there has been a change in the Government structure we have been inundated with a series of unfortunate mishaps that have left even the strongest among us, like the defeated boxer, in a daze.
Life in Guyana has lost its delectability to stress and worry. One would not have been so perturbed if these incidents were isolated ones, or if they had involved the common run-of-the-mill criminals.
Contrastingly, the incidents reek of officialdom and accusations are rife of malfeasance. Whether by accident or design the names of important people are popping up in all of the wrong places while accusing fingers are being levelled at senior government officials. Renowned fiction authors, the likes of Sidney Sheldon and Robert Ludlum, would simply thrive on the material emanating from this country.
We have been embarrassed by a series of unending and distasteful occurrences. Among them are the stone scam, the Carroll visa scam, the floating Charity wharf, and cocaine being exported through ingenious means in every conceivable commodity - rice, timber, fish and quite recently, molasses.
The re-migrant and the law books scandals are also fresh in our minds.
Of these obnoxious occurrences none has been as shocking and distasteful as the ‘death squad’ scandal where one man dared to be the sacrificial lamb in order to expose malfeasance and murder at the highest level. George Bacchus is now dead, but the stench of his revelations remains fresh in the minds of all law-abiding citizens anxious to witness a just and amicable closure to this and other distasteful occurrences that have usurped our normal existence.
Our minds stretch back to President Bharrat Jagdeo’s pronouncements soon after these and other allegations of impropriety were made. He immediately vowed to root out the perpetrators of such corruption but he asked to be furnished with the proof.
The late George Bacchus said that he had the proof. Someone ensured that he never got the opportunity to tell it to the nation. The opposition People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) also said that it was in possession of documents that endorsed allegations of Government’s impropriety, yet it has taken no action to provide these facts to the public.
The latest of the embarrassing allegations is the wildlife scandal in which two prominent politicians are accused of impropriety. Like the other scandals that preceded this one, the accused vociferously rejected the allegations and as in the law book scam, they somehow managed to find a ‘fall guy’.
This time, however, head of the wildlife division, Khalawan decided that he was not going to be the sacrificial lamb and has fingered two high-ranking government officials.
Interestingly, Jagdeo without the benefit of proof, decided that he had had enough and threatened to close down the trade.
The exporters whose sustenance depends on the trade felt that such a decision was unilateral and high-handed. They called for a thorough examination of the issue. They also felt that there were other adequate and feasible measures that the President should employ to ensure that those in charge of the wildlife trade be held accountable.
In late 1995, Antigua’s Minister of Finance, Molwyn Joseph, intervened on behalf of a friend and improperly cleared a Rolls Royce vehicle. He had breached the laws of the country.
Shortly after the illegal transaction, one of the nation’s newspapers, The Observer, got wind of the deal. Subsequent checks revealed that the luxury vehicle upon entering into Antigua had been stripped. Suspicions were rife and it was opined that the vehicle had been laden with illicit drugs.
The Observer published its findings. The opposition party led by current Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer, demanded Joseph’s immediate resignation. When Joseph failed to do so, Spencer and other members of his party blocked the entrance to his office and a fight ensued. The two groups were subsequently hauled before the courts.
One cannot also forget the arms scandal and accusations of drug deals by the Bird administration. In 1995 a Venezuelan drug mule was detained at the Vere Bird International Airport, with a quantity of drugs concealed in a package addressed to the ABS Radio, headed by Tony Bird.
He was hauled before the courts where he fingered Bird. Both parties were found guilty and were ordered to pay large fines or spend three years behind bars. Bird’s fine was paid, but the Venezuelan with no financial backing served his time.
The Antiguans are not fools. They bided their time, trudged to the polling stations and aired their feelings. The rest is now history.
Over in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday was unable to provide an explanation for a bank account in England.
Under his stewardship, several top private enterprise officials along with a few of his Ministers were fingered in the Piarco Airport scam, a case that is now engaging the Trinidad courts.
The people of T&T wasted little time arguing. They simply voiced their concerns at the polls.