Vishal Mangalwandi, above, speaks eloquently to the manner in which corruption retards societal development. The corruption perceptions index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people. It uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. More than two-thirds of countries scored below 50 on this year’s CPI. The average score was just 43. These data reveal that the continuing failure of most countries to control corruption is contributing to a crisis in democracy around the world. While there are exceptions, the data shows that despite some progress, most countries are failing to make serious inroads against corruption. Guyana is no exception in this regard. It has made some incremental progress but Guyana’s rank is 93 / 180 and its score is 37 / 100.
In Guyana, economic hardship, institutional weaknesses, criminal justice inefficiencies, as well as racial fractures in society provide fertile grounds for corruption. Although there is little data and research available on the country’s state of governance and on corruption, all major governance indicators suggest high and deteriorating levels of perceived corruption in the country and the prevalence of both bureaucratic and political forms of corruption.1
We Guyanese are well aware that our country has been fractured by decades of corruption. The “runnings” culture has now almost completely overwhelmed every sector of our society. However, recent oil and gas discoveries offer the prospects of significant wealth to Guyanese people and an opportunity to chart a new course. Most recently, the 11th and 12th wells announced last week takes our potential petroleum resources to over 5 billion barrels of oil equivalent, most of it oil. Production could exceed 1 million b/d next decade, putting Guyana in non-OPEC’s top ten. ExxonMobil’s plan for the Liza complex will fundamentally transform our economy.2 We must guard against this wealth falling into the hands of those who have, in the past, amassed significant wealth through corrupt practices. We must demand, moving forward, a laserlike focus on greater accountability and transparency.
Corruption is “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.” This abuse of entrusted power can occur at various levels of society, but arguably, the most damaging, is grand corruption, where wilful acts, committed at high levels of government. These acts fracture the functioning of the state and in turn, result in the impoverishment of the society as a whole.
As a bone fracture requires assessment before treatment so too does the societal fractures created by the impact of corruption. As qualified medical professionals would attest there are several types of bone fractures that are difficult to repair and the explanations as to why vary for each. Guyana’s corrupt practices has created societal fractures that bear all of the hallmarks of complex and difficult to repair fractures. It is evident that corruption cannot be allowed to go unpunished and unchecked if these fractures are to have any chance of healing.
Repairing a complex fracture requires a systematic approach and this is no different when tackling the societal fractures which emanate from corupt practices. It is no secret, Guyanese, at home, and abroad are aware that, over the last quarter of a century, corruption has become and integral part of Guyanese life. These corrupt practices have not only affected our education, health, agricultural and housing sectors, but, significantly, they have transformed, and not for the better, the Guyanese people and our culture. Can it be repaired? How is all of this repaired? What is a realistic time frame in which we can expect to see results? Well, just like with a complex bone fracture, after its evaluation comes the determination of ‘a coherent system of treatment’. This is no different than addressing corruption which thrives in an environment where the systems are weak. Implementing strong systems takes time and in many instances attracts resistance. But just like the treatment of a complex fracture the aim is not to subject the individual to pain and discomfort although this may be inevitable, the aim is to ensure that the fracture heals. In the last three plus years it has been widely reported that there have been numerous systematic changes in parastatal agencies in Guyana. These changes have not always been received favourably by certain sections of the society as it is considered that such changes deeply affect the already severely marginalised. No doubt this may be true but, just like the treatment of a complex fracture, focus must be placed on the long-term benefits such changes make to society and the fight against corruption. Coherent systems are a necessary treatment in the fight against corruption however in a society like Guyana where there are groups of people that have been marginalised for over two decades, there has to be consideration given to how this imbalance can be redressed in an equitable manner.
With the prospects of oil on the horizon we will be doing ourselves a disservice if we were to forgo the notion of accountability for pasts acts of corruption and its associated spoils. We must ask ourself this question: what do we want for our children? A society that is based on restored values of accountability, collective responsibility, dignity, fairness, honesty and humanity or one where ‘money is circulating’ and there is little concern from where this money comes or at whose expense?
Guyana has a bright future, but the road to that bright future is bumpy. Like the complex fracture there is no quick fix. If a blind eye is turned to the corruption witnessed in the past, perpetrators of such acts will imagine that this type of behaviour can be repeated with impunity in the future. We must aim to give birth to a society in which we are judged, fairly and justly, for the consequences of our actions. The academic literature is clear: corruption acts as a major deterrent to growth and development in a society.3 The future is one that requires us not to forget the past. The next generation is relying on us to give birth to the new Guyana and we must make it our duty not to deprive them of the bright future they have ahead.