In order for Guyana to achieve some measure or degree of success in its fight against corruption, the institutions and officials empowered to keep this societal ill at bay, must be properly compensated, insulated from political influence, and held accountable if caught in illegal acts too. Making this declaration recently was Chartered Accountant and anti-corruption advocate, Christopher Ram.
During a recent interview on local radio programme, Governance, Corruption and Justice, Ram was asked to offer his perspective on institutions such as the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) which is part of Guyana’s corruption-fighting mechanism, yet, found to be complicit in certain acts of illegality.
In this regard, Ram acknowledged that indeed, SOCU has been plagued by issues of poor accountability while noting that there are instances where the Unit started investigations which never saw the light of day, all because “big ones got involved.”
The Chartered Accountant said, “…My concern, and you know it is going to happen with small societies, is this thing that people who know somebody will always be able to cheat the system or bypass the system. We have a culture of corruption that we need to address…” He added, “We need to start professionalizing our police force, insulating them from political direction and making sure they are treated as professionals and given reasonable salaries and held accountable for the work that they do. And if they collect bribes they must pay the consequences.”
The transparency advocate was keen to note that change will not occur overnight. Be that as it may, he stressed that the nation has to start somewhere.
It was in May 2019 that Guyana Standard exposed some of the damning findings of an investigation led by the Audit Department of the Guyana Police Force into SOCU’s finances from 2015 to 2019. The report which was seen by this news outlet stated that the former Head of the Unit, Sydney James, and several other officials such as Superintendents Robert Tyndall, Trevor Reid, Byran Vieira and Corporal Kevin Haywood from the Guyana Defence Force, abused the agency’s Operational Fund which benefitted from $1.5M on a monthly basis.
Auditors observed that in June 2016, Reid, Tyndall and Vieira collected $600,000.00 each. But in a scramble to prove that they could account for it, they produced several receipts from January to June to show that they spent $100,000 a month on intelligence gathering. Unsurprisingly, these receipts were found to be backdated.
As for the entity’s former Head, there are allegations against him that he forged the signature of his successor, Superintendent Althea Padmore, so that he could obtain almost $1.8M. Auditors also learnt that James claimed to have paid $1,719,000 on five occasions to repair motor vehicle PRR 2609. It was discovered that this was not a police vehicle. It belonged to a young woman he is familiar with.
In addition to this, the store he claimed to have made the payments to, A and F Auto repairs, does not exist. The auditors also reviewed records which allegedly showed that the SOCU official paid $10,300,000 to M. Ali for car rental. But all the receipts were vague and had no vehicle registration numbers or the period they were rented for.
Also, the receipts had no letterhead or official stamps. The auditors were alarmed at the fact that the amount paid to Ali is 43.6% of SOCU’s expenditure for the audit period (2016 to 2019).
Since the disclosure of these findings a year later, not a single person was taken before the court.