Guyana is a country with many political secrets. Politicians have the most secrets. They do because of one major reason. They are held to higher standards than the ordinary citizen, but they have the same weaknesses as many of us. They lead because they are elected with the authority to do so, but they are tempted by inevitable moral hazards such as cronyism while in office. For this reason, politicians should not be in office for too long. In small countries like ours, once corruption starts from the top, it spreads like wildfire across the State. Guyana is already high on Transparency International’s corruption Index, which claims it is one of the most corrupt countries in the developing world.
By now, most Guyanese who have witnessed the public airing of dirty laundry between Brian Tiwari (of BK International Group of Companies) and former President Donald Ramotar must be either disgusted at the comical display of personal vendettas between the two men or are clamouring for more revelations because it smacks of corruption as both sides in their fit to win over the public release information that salivates the appetite of the onlookers. For others, it’s a continuous tale of he said he said. But for most Guyanese, it brings to light the cosy “cronyistic” relationship between a government that accesses resources from a private business entity and a company that depends on the government of the day for lucrative contracts.
It does not matter where one stands on this back and forth debate. What is more important is that this episode reveals a number of problems that are significant for nation-building in Guyana. Despite the minute details of the aborted deal with contractor Surendra Ltd to build a Specialty Hospital, plans and the millions of dollars worth of steel left in the containers at the wharf, now evidently given to Tiwari by the coalition Government, as well as accusations of nepotism, there are some other political dimensions to this brouhaha that renders some examination.
One, Brian Tiwari is operating like any other businessman, though not very smart in this instance. Neither is the former President behaving in a professional manner. Perhaps this is the type of discussion we have to endure given the political culture that has been spawned in Guyana after long bouts of PNC and PPP rule. Smart businessmen support the Government in power as well as the Opposition in an effort to maintain close ties with the power holders just in case one of them should lose the election. It’s smart politics, one that has been practised since the rise of capitalism. Tiwari should take a lesson from Donald Trump. It is understandable that Tiwari would want to protect his investments, and continue to secure future contracts with the coalition Government. But his newfound loyalties should not deter him from continued support of the political party that facilitated his accumulation of massive wealth over the years.
Two, the kind of relationship that BK enjoyed with the previous Government appeared to be an exclusive one. The company is attempting to maintain the same relationship given its aggressive move to demonstrate that its previous relationship is null and void. The lesson to be learnt here is that the Government should attempt to create a more even-handed relationship with independent business enterprises rather than allowing a few companies, like BK, to maintain a monopoly over a certain area. By encouraging more competition, the Government can demonstrate that it is pursuing a more comprehensive and fair business policy that would benefit a larger spectrum of Guyanese.
Three, developing economies like ours thrive on cronyistic practices that are deeply rooted in the socio-political life and cultural psyche of Guyanese. The fact that the coalition Government had readily established close ties with Brian Tiwari (through Harmon) is an indication that cronyism (and the perception of corruption) still ranks high and the new Government has not been willing to create a new political culture that would move us in a new direction.
At a time when Guyana is poised for a transformational economy based on the production of oil, it is important that new rules be established and enforced to ensure greater transparency in the way companies conduct their business and the relationship the Government has established with private companies.