One evening not so long ago my wife
Jewel and I took our friend Dr. Fenton Ramsahoye to have a drink and dinner
with us at the Pegasus.
Dr. Fenton Ramsahoye for those who do
not know him, was the first Guyanese [perhaps even the first person in the
Caribbean] to obtain a doctorate in Law, he became Dr. Jagan's first Attorney
General before he was 35, and since the 70's Dr. Fenton has been one of the
most respected Senior Counsels in the
family owns a
house in Campbellville and a farm on the Berbice River here in Guyana and it is his dearest wish that one day he can retire here in the land of his birth.
So he comes from time to time to see Guyana for a few weeks at a time and I look forward to his visits with great anticipation
since he is a most interesting man.
To illustrate this I will tell you a
story, one Sunday morning he and I and his brother Walter went to the Parika
Stelling to visit the market, and I watched with great interest and
astonishment as Dr. Fenton interfaced with the people selling at the market. It
was a revelation, Dr. Fenton can speak to anyone, a true man of the people, of
course he learnt to do that from his political life all those years ago with
So on this one evening when I picked
him up to go to the Pegasus I briefed him on what was going on in Guyana, as
usual most of what I was telling him had to do with the poor governance, the
corruption and the incompetence which I see everywhere. And even if I say so
myself when I brief anyone on the Guyana situation, it is usually based on
sound research and figures which can be substantiated. I hardly venture into
the realm of speculation or rumour just as I do not venture into those areas in
He listened in silence to my summation
of events and he continued to be silent as we parked the car and went into the
pool side area where we sat and ordered a drink.
As the drinks came he said to me "you
know Tony when you think of it, thieving in public life takes up an incredible
amount of your time" this took me by some surprise since I thought that
he was silent reflecting on some case he was doing in Barbados or the UK, so I
asked what he meant.
His response was "well, think about it
for a minute Tony, assuming that you have decided to thief, you have to spend time
deciding how much you will thief, you have to spend time conniving how
you will do it, you also have to spend time thinking of ways of hiding
the fact that you are thieving, what we call covering your tracks, and you have
to hide what you thief properly since you can't be in power forever and you run the risk, as in Trinidad, that at some time it
will be exposed, so you have to spend time putting these ill gotten
gains in places where nobody can find it" "you cannot just steal and put
it in the Bank you have to put it somewhere where it cannot be found, to do
that, you have to spend time deciding who you will trust to either put
this money in their name and don't steal from you later, which happens
frequently, or invest it for you in a manner which cannot be traced" This in turn raises its own problems which can take up more
of your time.
My first response was that in our case
the problem may not be as complex, since one only has to look at the houses
they had built in Ogle and Eccles and you know that this nonsense of family in
the US sending them money to do it is just pure fiction so if the PPP
functionaries are trying to hide anything they are doing a very poor job of it.
Nadir who was almost bankrupt in 2001 now has two, three properties, in fact it
would be difficult to find even one politician from the PPP who is not enjoying
inexplicable wealth, just a few months after being appointed as a Minister or
senor functionary in Government even Regional Chairmen.
Dr. Fenton however still maintained the position that even though our public functionaries
have gross eyepass for the Guyanese people, they still have to worry about the Auditor
General and the International Financial Institutions, IDB, World Bank etc., who
are looking at them and because they are not so bright
to begin with, it may appear that what they are doing
is transparent and clumsy.
In the end I had to agree that
corruption in Government is accompanied a substantial waste of time since
the corrupt officials who are stealing the people's money have to spend a substantial
amount of their time conniving to conduct the pillaging of public property,
time which they could or should be spending running the affairs of the
And it sets off a chain reaction, if the
bosses are thieving those below unless they are completely comatose would see
it and they would start thieving also, since their bosses cannot fire them,
remember Dr. Thomas who told us that corruption in the HIPC's just gets worse,
since the corrupt government becomes incapable of sanctioning itself. So if
the Minister is thieving you can bet that the Permanent Secretary is
also thieving and his secretary and all of his subordinates will also be
thieving, since no boss can accuse any subordinate of thieving if he is
himself openly dishonest.
So now we come back to the question, if
all of these people are spending the major portion of their time thieving
who is doing the work of the state?
The answer is simple, no one! that is
why even though we spend billions in our budgets a year, most of which we are
extorting from the common man in high duties and taxes and borrowing almost 25%
of each annual budget from the IDB, we, the citizens of this country do not see
anything much happening to improve our daily lives, in fact we see inertia and
disaster everywhere in sugar, in bauxite, in rice and in the business community,
most of you can't even afford to pay your light bills, Severn Trent has been
here for three years, has your water system improved? All they keep telling us is
that their electrical cost is too high 130 million dollars a week to run the
water supply infrastructure properly, but Power and Light continues to embark
on capital expenditures time and again without any sign of hydro power being on
the agenda, guaranteeing us no future as a nation, if you took away the drug
money and the remittances of the overseas Guyanese from our economic equation,
you would have no economy at all. Anyone who is waiting for bagassse from the
Skeldon mill and the imaginary Skeldon cane fields to give us cheap
electricity, is a complete fool.
We took 10 years to build a four mile 4
lane road from the bridge to Georgetown, in 1996 when the first 4 lane bridge
begun to be built if I had told you that you would have had to put up with that
nonsense for 10 years you would have called me a liar, but that is exactly what
happened. For 10 years the people living in the West Demerara and the East Bank
Demerara have had to put up with that atrocity, I suppose that we will have a
huge ribbon cutting exercise and the PPP will have a field day telling us what
a wonderful job they have done, but at what cost to the people of this nation?
Both economically and in wasted time! For 10 years you sat in those horrendous
traffic jams that became so common on the East Bank road and wasted millions of
man hours of productive time! Where is the outrage? Where is the anger at all
of this? Have we been so poor as media workers that we did not tell you enough
times that what was going on was completely unacceptable?
If we had brought in an American firm in
1996 to do this road and the bridges that went along with it, they would have completed
it in 6 months at a fraction of the price it will ultimately end up costing this
nation. I want the opposition in Parliament to demand an accounting for the
cost of this road and this time they must demand an answer.
The expansion of the Skeldon fields to
grow enough sugar cane to make a substantial impact on our electricity will
never happen, like the East Bank road it will be another disaster.