The Accountability Factor
November 5, 2003
WHEN the incoming Cheddi Jagan administration and the international community declared the return of democracy to Guyana at the conclusion of the October 5, 1992 general elections, most Guyanese were ecstatic.
To them it was the dawn of a new era - something they had been clamoring for almost three decades earlier.
The remainder of the populace who didn't find the PNC's defeat at the polls funny argued that the "democracy" declaration was an overstatement. They described Guyana as always being a democracy, and Desmond Hoyte's reversing of Forbes Burnham's ideological shift from capitalism to socialism as merely making "democratic Guyana" more liberal.
The debate on what makes a country democratic has been going on ever since.
But for all their rhetoric, silence overwhelmed the anti-PPP/Civic camp when the Auditor General submitted his Department's 1992 annual report to Parliament in September of 1993.
That the PPP/Civic administration directed the resumption of government accounts auditing and then facilitated the process by the Office of the Auditor General bore no comparison. For whatever reason, the Auditor General's Office had not submitted an annual report for a decade before 1993.
These days, the Opposition is very vocal about the Auditor General's report - not about the tabling of the report in Parliament, but about the contents of those sections of the report that flaws a ministry, department or agency for inadequately accounting for expenditures for which it was responsible.
The significance of the Auditor General's report is that it constitutes a major factor in the process of government accountability - and, like free speech, a life-blood of democracy.
In his famous Gettysburg Address, delivered in 1863 during the American Civil War, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln spoke of the importance of "government of the people, by the people, for the people." Lincoln, like the Founding Fathers who wrote the U.S. Constitution, believed that in order for the people to rule, government must be accountable - not just through elections, but through a myriad of safeguards, some of which were built into the Constitution, many of which slowly evolved as Americans gained a greater appreciation of what their commitment to democracy involved.
Guyana, as do many other democracies across the globe, subscribes to the Lincoln notion of governmental accountability and transparency.
Though the right of citizens to control their government through elections connotes the most important guarantee of government accountability, elections are not the only way of holding public officials to account for their stewardship.
Holding government accountable, however, is difficult without essential information, and without the ability to assess official conduct.
That's why the Auditor General's report is so essential. Among other things, the role of the Office of the Auditor General is to audit government financial statements and ensure that the government's activities are in keeping with the country's laws and regulations.
Appointed by Parliament, the AG acts as the MPs' watchdog, empowered by the House of Assembly to assess the government's use of resources allocated by Parliament and ascertain whether Guyanese taxpayers are getting full "value for their money," if you will.
Another aspect of the Auditor General's report that warrants comment here is that it is prepared without governmental interference.
The PPP/Civic administration agrees that good government, like good management, requires an innovative culture and a willingness to take risks. Hence the independence of the Office of the Auditor General and the "field day" that the Opposition gets when it delves into the AG's report and finds accountability shortcomings by some government entities.
All in all, the accountability factor constitutes an aspect of democracy that once again is becoming traditional in Guyana.