Govt lacks political will to address conflicts of interest – economist

…Guyana has numerous gaps in procurement system – GCCI President

With allegations of conflicts of interest and corruption besetting the Government over the past few months, questions are being asked over whether Government just lacks the political will to meaningfully address these issues.
During an appearance on the Globespan24x7 Town Hall panel discussion on Saturday, Economist Sasenarine Singh referred to some of the recent scandals, including the case of Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes and her company, Videomega Productions, receiving Government contracts.
According to Singh, who is a former member of the Alliance For Change, the fact that a Minister’s company can get Government contracts and there is no action taken against her by her Government or even an investigation, shows there is no commitment and political will to genuinely clean up conflicts of interest at the top.
“Obviously Guyana is a far way off from the (anti-corruption) standards of the United States. But if you look at the laws Guyana has, Guyana has a fair amount of laws covering a wide angle of things. The problem in Guyana is enforcement of the laws.”
“And it’s because the regulators are always fearful that the political people will come for them. So everyone walks on eggshells, so to speak. We saw the other day some low level officer in the Ministry of Finance was going in after six into the safe room, tampering with documents. It has become a culture within the public procurement system, that everything is a hustle.”
At his last press conference, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had also addressed Minister Hughes’ matter and had compared it with former Housing Minister Valarie Patterson-Yearwood, who was transferred to another Ministry after revelations that her husband was getting contracts from the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA).
“We have a Minister who got a contract in her own Ministry,” Jagdeo had said. “So if you move one in the public interest because her husband got a contract from her Ministry, what about the Minister who got a contract in her Ministry?”

Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) President Nicholas Boyer was also a part of the Globespan panel discussion. He made it clear that while there is a Public Procurement Commission (PPC) and laws governing procurement, there are still gaps and issues with enforcing the law.
“I think the public procurement system has a number of gaps. We have to give some credit to the Government, that they implemented the Procurement Commission. But there are still gaps,” he said.
“Contract splitting has been an issue. You have the direct conflict of interest where you have people who are in public positions holding private interests in companies. And when they’re going up for work, it is either felt that the work was not publicly tendered. Or if the work was publicly tendered, the companies did not report who were the direct owners.”
“In the oil industry, they are very beholden to the US foreign corrupt practices Act. And when you go into their procurement systems, they require you to declare the ultimate beneficiaries and politically exposed persons.”
As a consequence, Boyer noted that foreign companies cannot do business with local suppliers who have any connections whatsoever to corrupt practices or conflicts of interest with politicians. Such connections, he said, have to be publicly declared.
“Secondly, there must be no pay to play kind of thing going on. So these are things we need to inculcate in our Government procurement. The gaps in our procurement are allowing these situations to coming about. And as long as these gaps are there, no matter who is in power they will exist.”