OPINION: The related farces of integrity, amnesty, continuity

by GHK Lall

As I observe the latest hullabaloos over conflicts, integrity commissions, disclosures and that dysfunctional family tree, I ponder again as to why so many, sometimes, make life complicated and difficult.  I am perplexed and alarmed as why straightforward personal matters that rightfully should be disclosed before official, need-to-know, domains become so tangled. I remind: it is not merely the thing itself, but the appearance of the thing.

First, I heard that a heavy majority of senior public officials did not file required declarations with the Integrity Commission.  I am confident that not a single one of them has anything to hide. Everything they did, still do, and own is known. They may think otherwise; but in this transparent (thank god for small mercies) fishbowl of a village, nothing is a secret, or remains that way for long.  Trusted, reliable cousins-in-law whisper; little do they realize the reverberating range of their echoes. Cherished outside relations (not by biology) stand out for sudden eye-opening, sometimes jaw-dropping, always inexplicably mind-boggling opulence. Except that it is not wholly inexplicable.  Not by any stretch of the imagination; and Guyanese citizens may be limited, but their imaginations are not. They see, they hear, they learn. They know, too. They connect dots, just like everybody else in this talkative, inquisitive, secretive (believed) society. That is, everybody other than the bland, passive, non-intrusive Integrity Commission.  Its role is best described as curator of relics brought to its museum. I am beginning to think that it is a wax museum: not for the real alabaster things, but as a receptacle for paper (mis)representations of what is believed acceptable, what reads well, and what should prompt no one to hold nose or raise an eyebrow. As I evaluate matters, the Integrity Commission is already on its way to nowhere; my once high hopes are dashed.  It will be tendered the sanitized and the cosmeticized. By this yardstick, the Integrity Commission will have filled its mandate to keep the country clean (not just the sinful city). I wonder what the poor struggling citizens think of all of this. I know what I do.

Second, and as if to provide confirmation of swirling misgivings, I learned that the same Integrity Commission announced that it has no plans to go after retroactive declarations that may be outstanding.  Pardon is asked if I failed to get that completely accurate. But, it is clear that, after all the financial plunder inflicted and ethical perversities experienced, this country is in a forgiving phase. I call this amnesty national.  Amnesty Guyana affords the gloss of old (rancid) bodies cloaked in new Armani suits. This is caricature and specter; joke and trepidation amounting to the ole free pass to perpetuate debauchery and pillage; to grandfather thievery. Therein reside the farces of integrity, amnesty, and continuity.  Other than a spoilsport like me, who would not like such an assurance of no looking back? Look closely: GRA amnesty. City Hall amnesty. Presidential amnesty. Segments of the judiciary and law enforcement have their own longstanding amnesty programs (for a consideration, of course). Only the opposition has been tardy in unveiling its own version of this folly.  It is as if a neon “For Sale” sign has been erected: come in and get your free indulgence and any other special dispensations needed. There is hope in some Guyanese quarters that the Americans will be similarly understanding and lenient.

Whether there is resignation with or scorn for official mercy, the last word has to be that men (and women) who were immersed in every conceivable form of malfeasance involving the people’s money in the last 20 years (or 60) are given a clean bill of health, and the right-of-way of an official stamp of approval to live and let live.  Put differently: carry on plundering. What a cooperative country! What a lovely sickly comedy! A wicked part of me sometimes wish that I were a beneficiary of such easy magnanimity. Pope Francis created saints out of sinners the other day. Guyana does him one better by creating divinity out of deviltry.  Now everything falls into place: there is neither darkness nor evil in this land. To maintain equity, I suggest that slimy confidence tricksters and dirty business-people be granted lifetime immunity, too. The opposition did this; so should this government.

Third, and so that no one gets any fancy ideas, I am disclosing for the public record even though I do not qualify by any definition for the distinction (such that it is) of senior public officer.  I have nothing to declare. That is the extent and value of my assets. No new holdings or strange suspicious ones. No extra cash. No shelters (here or anywhere). In fact, I weigh less (financially) today, than when I responded to a government invitation recently.  I am poorer, not richer; fewer friends and more foes, too. It The GRA, the GPF, the government, the opposition, the forensic auditors, the media can check and verify what is stated here. Like the Swiss banks (unlike Guyanese institutions) I am in full disclosure mode.  I invite, even challenge all comers to probe. Now having volunteered this unprecedented step, here is the billion-dollar question: who else in this godforsaken dirty (the man is right) society can say and then do (do) the same? Very few, I believe.