Jun 11, 2019  Features / ColumnistsFreddie Kissoon

Strong words like asinine, idiotic, etc., are not enough to describe the foolish thoughts of people about oil wealth bringing the good life to Guyana. A person or a few persons will be in charge of the money. Inevitably, they will be politicians. That person or those persons will decide if ten million goes to buying an expensive SUV for a party apparatchik who chairs a state board or to buying a fast-moving ferry to bring farmers’ produce from outlying areas.
My bet is, the money will be spent on ostentatious things like fast cars and majestic buildings. When oil money comes, its usage will be determined by factors of friendship, party loyalty and ethnic sympathies, not love for country. Two incidents in one week prove this. First is the Sherod Duncan affair. Two AFC persons, Juretha Fernandes and Beverly Alert, did not approve of the dismissal of Duncan from the Chronicle. Both of these ladies belong to the same branch of the AFC where Duncan is Chairman.
Fernandes and Alert put party loyalty and friendship above the interest of the country. The AFC and Duncan were their priorities, not the wholesomeness of the state-owned newspaper that is funded by taxpayers. This type of song has been playing since independence. Then there is the Ivelaw Griffith affair at UG. Only in a wasteland like Guyana could Griffith have done what he did with taxpayers’ money. And he, like Duncan, had his well-placed supporters.
What is the similarity between Duncan and Griffith?
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The Auditor-General investigated the financial spending of Duncan and found that he was guilty of serious mistakes in his spending habits, some of which were in double digits, not just two or three incidents. Juretha Fernandes, Beverly Alert and Moses Nagamootoo felt Duncan should still be the manager of the Chronicle, despite the Auditor-General’s discoveries. How that could be putting country before politics has no explanation in human discourse.
It would take several columns to analyse the financial directions of the just resigned Vice Chancellor (VC) of UG. It simply boggles the mind to know that people who have to live in a poor country like Guyana where human services is far below what it should be like in the 21st century could justify just one state institution spending dozens of millions of dollars on weekly foreign trips, first class airline tickets, accommodations at foreign five-star hotels, sponsorship of foreign conferences, and lavish entertainment, while labs are bare, the library is bare, there is no university bookstore, congested classrooms without air-conditioning and the list goes on.
In the midst of an impending audit, there were persons on the University Council that rejected a hold on the VC’s renewal of contract until the audit report was submitted. What happened if the audit report found that dozens of millions were unaccounted for and other dozens were wasted and you decide not to continue with the VC, then he could have sued you for a colossal sum? Was this putting country before friendship? This is exactly what happened at UG.
It was worse at the Chronicle. In that situation, there was actually a submitted auditor’s report that called into question the continuation of Duncan’s status at the Chronicle. But Guyana’s future was not a priority for Moses Nagamootoo. Party politics was. It was the same at UG. All the Council members affiliated to the government voted to renew the VC’s contract. For them, the country’s future was not a priority.
This is what Guyana has been like since Independence. Party politics, ethnic loyalty and personal friendship have dominated the exercise of power from Independence right up to this moment in time. There were no exceptions. I am not certain if the presidency of Desmond Hoyte was an exception. Hoyte wanted talented people in the system, regardless of party affiliation, but his record on that direction was not clean. I think he was prepared to victimise someone as immensely talented as Yesu Persaud because of Persaud’s independence of mind.
Here is where the debate on oil money comes in. Why does anyone assume what happened with Duncan at the Chronicle and Ivelaw Griffith at UG would not happen again and again and again when oil money begins to flow? It will and it will be more perverted, twisted and morbid. The logic is there to examine in both situations. Duncan spent public funds recklessly and ostentatiously without any thought that Guyana is a poor country and those funds could have been used in some small way to better the lives of Chronicle’s employees. When it comes to Griffith, there are more columns to come on UG under him, I will stop here.