The financing of political campaigns without accountability can lead to corruption and it often does. This is the reason why there are campaign finance laws. In many countries, these laws are extensive and are enforced. Several election cycles ago in Guyana the issue of the reform of campaign finance laws was raised by Mr. Christopher Ram. He got nowhere for his pains but has doggedly stayed on course. Others have since weighed in on the issue, including Transparency International Guyana and David Hinds of the WPA. At one time the AFC promised campaign finance reform but that party appears not to have been able to persuade its senior coalition partner, APNU, to support such a project. Latterly, the Leader of the Opposition, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, has made some serious, supportive comments on campaign finance reform. But there are still issues as to whether our political culture will sustain it.
At the basic level, there are too fundamental objectives of campaign finance reform, namely, to know who makes the contribution and to limit the amount of the contribution. These ensure, firstly, that the public would know the identity of the contributor and, secondly, the size of the contribution is not large enough to purchase influence. It is believed that public knowledge of these matters would tend to limit the potential for corruption. It is routine in Guyana, and many other Caribbean countries, that those who make significant contributions to losing parties suffer discrimination or are fearful that they would do so. Political discrimination is rife in Guyana and is frequently on public display for all to see. Therefore, it is believed that if there is a requirement for disclosure of names, contributions will dry up. If the amounts which can be contributed are limited, it is certain that political parties would not be able to raise enough funds to contest elections. These are the essential reasons why our major political parties have not been keen on campaign finance reform.
Firemen are first responders who are required to help and protect victims and their property. While purporting to do so, many fireman seize the opportunity to steal from victims. The stealing of property by firemen from the Fly Jamaica aircraft which had mechanical problems and landed with some difficulty at the CJIA, is a shameless and sickening disgrace. It was far more extensive than has been reported.
In the past, burglars invaded my late parents’ home and stole a number of items. Four or five policemen came to investigate and as they were leaving, one of them swiped my father’s wristwatch from a table. Some years later, firemen entered the Cameron & Shepherd building in Avenue of the Republic, where I then worked and sill do. The top floor was on fire. After they left, all movable objects of value that could be fetched out had vanished. Long before then, criminal activity by members of the disciplined forces and corruption in the society had been simmering and growing. Corruption by prison officers has reached alarming proportions. Little of consequence was done by successive governments to stop the slide. The result is that it has now escalated by leaps and bounds throughout the country. Thieving and corruption are now part of the national culture. It includes murder in the course of robbery and paid killings, including by members of the disciplined forces.
On Friday last the New York Times published “The $20 Billion Question for Guyana.” It was a lengthy review of Guyana and the impact that the oil discovery by Exxon and its partners in offshore Guyana is likely to have. Two recent articles by the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs, of world-wide reputation, like the New York Times (NYT), were published and reprinted in Guyana. Few Guyanese would recognize the description of Georgetown by one of them as ‘sleepy’ or by the NYT as a ‘musty clapboard town…which seems forgotten by time.’ Notwithstanding these unflattering first impressions of Georgetown by foreign journalists, the articles helped to highlight, not only the amount of financial resources that will become available to Guyana, but how those resources can be used or misused.
Guyana is described as an unlikely setting for the next oil boom. It is ‘one of the poorest countries in South America can become one of the wealthiest.’ The NYT article said that all the talk in Georgetown is about a sovereign wealth fund to manage the money. It underlined Minister Raphael Trotman’s comment, perhaps speaking hyperbolically, if he indeed said so, that we have been given a chance to get things right because ‘the Chinese cut down our forests and dug out our gold and we never got a cent…we could end up with the same experience with ExxonMobil.’ Whatever the dangers, Rystad Energy is quoted as predicting that Guyana will get $6 Billion by the end of the 2020s. But this is a modest estimate with a production of eventually 500,000 barrels a day. Doug McGhee, Exxon Operations Manager, predicted better social services and infrastructure, ‘if the government manages the resources right.’
The offence of misconduct in public office carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. It is what is known as a ‘common law’ offence and is triable on indictment. This means that it is is derived from judge-made law of England which Guyana has legally inherited. And it is triable by jury. The maximum penalty suggests that it is regarded as a very serious offence.
While the offence can be traced back to the 13th century, a definition, given by Chief Justice Lord Mansfield in the 1783 case of R v Rembridge emphasized its importance: “…. first that a man accepting an office of trust concerning the public, especially if attended with profit, is answerable criminally to the King for misbehavior in his office; …. Secondly, where there is a breach of trust, fraud or imposition in a matter concerning the public, though as between individuals it would be actionable, yet as between the King and the subject it is indictable. That such should be the rule is essential to the existence of the country.”
This article below was first published in June, 2014, in a different political era. The recent shooting by the Police of three men on the seawall demonstrates the continuing relevance of the issues discussed at that time. I wrote as follows:
Violence and corruption in the police force can no longer be classified as allegations. They are real and are now an integral part of the culture of the Police Force and policing in Guyana. The sooner the authorities accept that these are chronic and systemic problems in the Police Force, the quicker there will be a serious attempt at a solution. No such attempt has yet taken place, even though modest efforts at ‘reforms’ have been made. But these have been attempted only reluctantly, after much public pressure and as an attempt to soothe public opinion. When public rage overflows, such as after the shootings in Middle Street, the public is offered the creation of a SWAT team. But the danger now exists that the Police Force will become so enmeshed and so entrenched in violence and corruption, that systems to protect these will take on a life of their own within progressively higher reaches of the Police Force.