T&T Professor calls for stronger ‘whistleblower protection’ in Guyana

…says local procurement laws inadequate to guard against public corruption

Greater protections for ‘whistleblowers’ are to be embedded in the Guyana State Asset Recovery Laws, along with a drastic overhaul of the nation’s procurement laws. These are necessary to not only guard against, but prosecute, corrupt activities emanating from the resource curse, associated with the influx of large sums of money into a country from commercial production of oil.
The dire warning was sounded yesterday as local stakeholders, led by the Guyana Oil and Gas Association (GOGA) and the Caribbean Institute of Forensic Accounting (CIFA), met at the Guyana Pegasus to commence a two-day symposium to address ‘Public Corruption and the ‘Oil Curse’ ,ahead of commercial production of the ‘black gold’ in Guyana come 2020.
The cautionary messages were delivered by Managing Director of the Raymond and Pierre Limited, Professor Afra Raymond.
Professor Raymond is a recent past president of Trinidad and Tobago’s Institute of Surveyors, as well as the immediate past president of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry in the twin island republic.
Addressing the matter of protection for persons wanting to become ‘whistleblowers’ in order to curb some corrupt activity uncovered, Professor Raymond told those gathered at the Guyana Pegasus that greater protection is needed.
A whistleblower is defined as a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organisation that is either private or public.
On the matter of protection for whistleblowers, Professor Raymond pointed to the fact that some employees are bound by confidentiality agreements in their contracts, and as such are threatened with disciplinary action should information be released.
According to Professor Raymond, there must be mechanisms put in place in the SARA laws to ensure that litigation cannot be mounted against persons who want to divulge information on corrupt transaction, since such an act would run counter to the conditions of the contract.
Professor Raymond was even more critical of the Guyana Procurement Act of 2003, which he said seemingly contains ‘engineered loopholes’ in addition to the antiquated provisions that allow for a situation to be taken advantage of by corrupt persons.
According to Professor Raymond, the Guyana Procurement Act of 2003 creates a loophole, because government can enter into government-to-government arrangements outside of the ambit of the procurement laws for international agreements.
He observed that, as is the case in Trinidad and Tobago, international agreements such as government-to-government contracts can account for the largest quantum of public money.
Professor Raymond was quick to point out that ‘public money’ is money that is due to the state, money due from the state, or money which, in the event of a default, the state would be liable to pay.
He said, too, that it is in this vein that the shortcomings in the Procurement Laws must be seen, and he pointed to the narrow definition of procurement as simply the acquisition of good and services.
Professor Raymond also raised, as a red flag in the Procurement legislation, a limited scope for the acceptance of bids tendered for projects.
According to the eminent professor, this arrangement provides for a limited scope, since it does not take into account modern transactions such as design & build projects as well as public-private partnerships.
Such arrangements, he pointed out, require full financial and technical assessments of prospective bidders.
According to Professor Raymond, the approach to such arrangement, as provided for under the existing procurement law, is very limited and require modern procurement initiatives.
Speaking to the importance of understanding the nature of public property and its disposal, which could come in the form of licences and leases, Professor Raymond was quick to point out that public property goes beyond real estate and would include mineral rights such as oil and gas, timber and timber licences, and concessions including those to operate toll roads and bridges.
He pointed out, too, that it was only recently recognised that information traded across thin air using bandwidth and frequencies is in fact the most valuable commodity in the world.
“All of that information is on the information superhighway using bandwidth and concession….the signal is rooted in a license and a concession, and that is why it has a value and (is) taken proper care of in a proper procurement regime.”
He was also critical of the Cabinet role of the review of contracts in excess of $15M, calling the practice backward, since the Executive should not be involved in such operational matters.
Other presenters to yesterday’s symposium included former T&T Energy Minister Eric Williams and Professor Kennedy Mkutu.
The forum continues today at the Guyana Pegasus, with other international presenters/panellists including, Zalena Khan, Founder and Managing Partner of Zcloud LLC, a NetSuite Solution Provider Partner in the Caribbean and South America; and Stephen Baker, senior partner at Baker and Partners, English barrister and Jersey advocate.
The symposium is slated to explore why the oil industry in the overwhelming majority of developing countries is associated with widespread corruption, procurement and other forms of fraud, institutionalised tax evasion, and a range of other ingenious means to steal government revenue.
Panel discussions will include the protection of sovereign interests and the avoidance of these typical pitfalls. Other topics up for discussion include ‘The Misuse of Offshore Structures in Laundering/hiding the Proceeds of Illicit Payments in the Oil and Gas Industry’ and ‘How offshore trusts, companies and financial services are used to hide illegal payments, and ‘best practices to prevent such payments’.