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Former President, Donald Ramotar
Former President, Donald Ramotar

Op-Ed: INTEGRITY IN PUBLIC LIFE

The manner of the appointment of Mr. James Patterson as Chairman of one of the most important institutions in our country, the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) and subsequent revelations in relation to his statement on his CV have once more raised the issue of integrity in public life.

Mr. Patterson was appointed unconstitutionally. Moreover, he and the President have misled the nation into believing he was the Chief Justice of Grenada. He never was.

Our public life needs to be cleaned up. People who hold high offices must demonstrate integrity. The consequences of having persons in high positions like Chairman of GECOM, whose statements are false, would prove disastrous.

This is an issue that has plagued Guyana for many decades.

It’s origin can be traced back to the mid and late 1960s when the PNC made its move to convert itself into the majority Party in Parliament. They did this, not by being popular and winning elections, but by bribery and corruption at the highest level.

They began to bribe Members of Parliament to cross the floor, first from the Opposition benches, and later from its coalition partner, the United Force (UF).

Recall that Moses Bhagwan, even though elected to Parliament on a PPP ticket in 1964, decided to sit as an independent member and mostly supporting the PNC. When he resigned, his replacement Zharudeen came in and immediately crossed the floor to the PNC/UF coalition. He was clearly enticed. Many felt then than Bhagwan facilitated the PNC and held his seat until the PNC brought over Zharudeen.

Then we had the case of Mohamed Kassim, the then Minister of Works in the PNC/UF coalition.

The then Minister of Finance, Peter D’Aguair told the Assembly that Mr. Kassim could not account for five million dollars, a princely sum in those days. He was charging Kassim with corruption, then the then Prime Minister, Forbes Burnham, rose and told the Assembly that he had approved the spending.

Kassim crossed the coalition line and went to the PNC from the UF. D’Aguair resigned from the government in protest. However, that gave the PNC a majority in the Parliament to pass the laws and put itself in a position to rig the 1968 general elections.

That practice continued throughout the PNC period in office (1964-1992), and the impact on the society was devastating. Not only did it impact on the economy and on the lives of our people (by 1992 some 80% of our people were under the poverty line) but morality went out of public life.

Allan John Knight, the then Anglican Bishop and then Bishop of the West Indies, in a statement in the late 1960’s said that it was amazing to see what five hundred dollars ($500.00) could do in Guyana. He went on to elaborate and listed a whole series of corrupt practices that it can cause to happen. The most memorable is when he said that it could make files at the Courts disappear and subvert justice.

In the same period, Joe Braz, a senior Police Officer and one-time Head of Traffic Department, had bitterly bemoaned the deterioration of morals in our country. He had said that bribery and corruption was sweeping the society and even affecting the Police Force. Promotions, he said, were not done on the basis of merit any longer but by who knows who and by bribery.

After the rigging of the elections, the morals of public life went further down. Corruption became the order of the day, it gradually became a way of life, very entrenched.

With the return of democracy the PPP/C administration did a lot to try to clean-up public life.

The PPP/C administration created an Integrity Commission. Cheddi Jagan had identified Bishop Randolph George to head this body to bring back morality in our public service. Unfortunately, the PNC fought tooth and nail against it and did their best to sabotage its work. They vilified Bishop George, one of this country’s outstanding citizens.

Auditor General reports began to reappear after an absence of a decade.

The PNC encouraged corruption among public servants. Cases exist to show where the PPP/C administration tried to remove officers in the public service widely believed to have been corrupt and met with stiff resistance from the PNC in alliance with that section of the media which supports them.

The PPP/C also re-introduced public tendering for public works and services. This was unheard of during the time of the PNC (now APNU) regime was in power.

Our Public Accounts Committee in the Parliament began to work and the Auditor General’s Office was given greater resources to perform its functions.

Surely, the PPP/C government was making an impact. However, it was not able to eradicate that scrouge of corruption from our society.

That is an indication of how deep the culture of corruption has seeped into every aspect of life in this country. The principal cause was due to rigged elections and official manipulation and misconduct by the PNC regime during the 1964 to 1992 period.

More progress could have been made if the PNC/APNU and the media that supports them had given just a little support to the efforts of the PPP/C administration. Instead, they fought every anti-corruption measure and had, in the words of Donald Trump, President of the United States, created a great amount of ‘fake news’.

All the gains that we have made in the past are now once more being eroded.

We see the regime’s great defence of the Drug Bond deal, the total disregard for bidding process; the growing elaborate lifestyles of government Ministers.

The appointment of Mr. Patterson, who has already discredited himself by stating he was Chief Justice of Grenada; who has a partisan political position being in a Facebook Group that promotes and defends the PNC is another sign that we are rapidly descending into a cesspool of corruption. History is repeating itself.

The sad fact is that this is being sponsored and promoted by the Parties in power. They will, therefore, prove inadequate to the task of curbing it.

Guyanese of all political views, fair-minded people that still support the APNU regime must come out and join the fight to promote integrity in public life. The alternative is too serious to contemplate.

We must begin by having a credible Elections Commission. Mr. Patterson is not fit and proper for this post.
Donald Ramotar, Former President

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