Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 13:07 GMT

Countries at the Crossroads 2006 - Guyana

Publisher Freedom House
Author Ivelaw L. Griffith
Publication Date 3 August 2006
Cite as Freedom House, Countries at the Crossroads 2006 - Guyana, 3 August 2006, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

(Scores are based on a scale of 0 to 7, with 0 representing weakest and 7 representing strongest performance.)


Many people outside Guyana associate the country with "Jonestown," the murder-suicide of the 913 followers of the Reverend Jim Jones and his People's Temple in the jungles of Guyana on November 18, 1978. That sordid episode involved few Guyanese.1 Yet, Jonestown was a morbid representation of the crossroads Guyana then faced as it grappled with challenges of authoritarian governance and socialist economics, among other things.

Much has changed in Guyana since that day. The political roost is no longer ruled by Forbes Burnham and the People's National Congress (PNC); Burnham died in 1985, and the PNC lost power in 1992 to Burnham's nemesis, Cheddie Jagan, and his People's Progressive Party (PPP). However, in 2006, Guyana finds itself again at a crossroads, due to a combination of political, economic, and other circumstances, as the nation grapples with democratic governance and liberal economics. The present situation has some new dimensions and implications for the current political order and the trajectory of change. For example, in contrast to 1978, overt racial hostility is building, partly because one racial group – the Indo-Guyanese – controls both the political and the economic levers of power. Moreover, the advent of democracy following the 1992 elections – which marked the first time in 28 years that all political parties and the international community agreed that the elections were relatively free and fair, although voting still occurred mainly along racial lines – has spawned rising political and economic expectations that, regrettably, the power elites have been unable to fulfill.2

Guyana is a South American country in geography, occupying 83,000 square miles (214,970 square kilometers) in northern South America, but a Caribbean country in political culture. For all its geographic size, its mid-2004 population was a mere 750,000, giving it one of the lowest population densities in the Americas. Indeed, the population has shrunk over the last few years, due mostly to emigration; it contracted by 0.1 percent in 2004.3 About 90 percent of the population lives along the country's Atlantic coast, which is some 270 miles long and up to six feet below sea level in some places. This habitation pattern leaves vast sections of the heavily forested country under-peopled and under-protected, a situation with considerable national security implications given the country's illegal drug transshipment problem and territorial disputes with Venezuela and Suriname. The country derives its name from an Amerindian word meaning "land of many waters." Its economy revolves around agriculture (mainly sugar and rice), mining (notably bauxite and gold), and services.

About 49 percent of the population is of Oriental Indian descent, or Indo-Guyanese, while 32 percent are of African descent, or Afro-Guyanese. Amerindians and people who self-identify as whites, Chinese, and mixed comprise the remainder. General life expectancy is 66 years, and functional literacy is 97 percent. However, the country's socioeconomic situation is bleak. According to the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), its 2003 gross domestic product (GDP) per capita was US$986, one of the lowest in the Americas, and its rate of real GDP growth for the same year was a mere 0.7 percent. Despite debt relief from Trinidad and Tobago, Britain, the United States, Canada, and several international financial agencies, the country still carried a debt burden of US$1.08 billion in 2004.4 Fully one-quarter of the population is below age 15, and infant mortality is 49 deaths per 1,000 live births.5 More than 30 percent of the population live in poverty.6 Thus, remittances are critical to the economic survival of thousands of families. Remittances account for at least 10 percent of the GDP of Guyana.7 Inter-American Development analysis in 2005 cites Guyana as one of 23 hemispheric countries where remittances in 2004 exceeded Official Development Assistance for that year. Remittances also accounted for at least 10 percent of the GDP of Guyana and five other Caribbean Basin countries. Total remittances to Guyana, coming mainly from the United States, Canada, and Britain, grew from US$119 million in 2002 to US$137 million in 2003 to US$143 million in 2004.8

In January 2005, Guyana experienced the highest recorded rainfall since 1888, resulting in a flood whose aftermath seriously tested the effectiveness of the government. According to one UN study, the flood affected some 84 percent of the country's population. The estimated damage and loss to the social sectors (housing, education, health), productive sectors (agriculture, commerce, tourism, manufacturing), and infrastructure (drainage and irrigation, water supply, road transport, electricity, telecommunications) totaled nearly US$500 million.9 The disaster received little international attention, coming soon after the tsunami in Asia, but it killed 34 people and generated disease, ruined crops, polluted drinking water, battered the nation's already feeble economy, and strained race relations. There had been plenty of warnings that the 200-year-old drainage system had fallen into disrepair, but the government failed to grasp the scope of the problem until the torrential rains began on January 14.10 Moreover, the emergency management team was initially in disarray, and the warehouse that stored dry rations, blankets, and medicines had been emptied when the government helped the island of Grenada after Hurricane Ivan.

While the flood was a natural disaster it also was a governmental effectiveness disaster. Astoundingly, the government dismissed calls for an investigation into the affair. It claimed to be interested in "going forward" and not "moving backwards," oblivious to the value of a comprehensive review for future planning and execution. Further, the politicization of some relief efforts resulted in the bypassing of some predominantly Afro-Guyanese areas as supplies were rushed to mostly Indo-Guyanese ones.11

Thus, while notable strides have been made toward democracy, there is cause for concern about political stability. Elections in 2006 mean governance in Guyana will command the attention of concerned local and foreign publics interested in electoral transparency specifically and democratic propriety generally. The expectation that Guyana will continue its democratic journey is both reasonable and realistic. But it is up to the people of that nation to adopt appropriate precepts and practices to move beyond the current crossroads.

Accountability and Public Voice – 4.53

Guyana's 1980 constitution created a hybrid of parliamentary and presidential systems of rule, with a 65-member unicameral legislature called the National Assembly. The leader of the party with the largest parliamentary group becomes president, having earlier been designated the presidential candidate and the leader of the party list of candidates. Traditionally, each political party designates its political leader as the presidential candidate and leader of the party list of candidates. The present electoral system is the product of constitutional reform that followed the controversial elections of 1997 and 2001, which were marred by election-day violence prompted by voting irregularities.12 One feature of the system is the Largest Remainder Hare (L-R Hare) method, which provides for geographic and gender representation.

Between the time of independence in 1966 and the 1980 constitutional change, the legislature comprised 53 members. With the adoption of the new constitution in 1980, only 53 of the 65 members of the legislature were elected directly, while the remaining 12 were indirectly elected from the Regional and National Council of Local Demographic Organs. Under the current system, adopted after considerable legislative action in 2000 and 2001, all members of the assembly are directly elected. Twenty-five members are elected from the ten geographic constituencies, and the remaining 40 are elected from a national list to guarantee a high degree of proportionality. Political parties that contest seats in the assembly must contest in at least six of the ten geographic constituencies and nominate candidates for 13 of the 25 constituency seats. Furthermore, at least one-third of the candidates on a party's geographical lists must be women.13

The last elections were held in March 2001. Both the local elections managers and the nearly 150 foreign observers declared them to be free and fair, although operations were marred in several places by some undesirable practices. For instance, the Carter Center's final report cited "post-election street violence and lingering doubts about the accuracy of the voters list and final results."14 Moreover, it noted that "problems with the voters list and voter registration were the principal reasons for opposition party claims that GECOM [Guyana Elections Commission] was not ready for election day and that these greatly affected the level of confidence of the Guyanese people in GECOM and the electoral process. Although GECOM had extended pre-election deadlines and issued supplemental voter registration lists in an effort not to disenfranchise voters, the final OLE (Official List of Electors) still suffered from repeated but correctable errors."15 The center also provided appraisals of several key aspects of the electoral system, including voter registration, party observers, election management systems, and media operations.

The elections returned President Bharrat Jagdeo and the People's Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to power, with 34 seats in parliament. The People's National Congress/Reform (PNC/R), led then by the late former president Hugh Desmond Hoyte and now by Robert Corbin, secured 27 seats, while the Guyana Action Party/Working People's Alliance (GAP/WPA) won two seats, and Rise, Organize, and Rebuild (ROAR) and The United Force (TUF) each received one seat. Disenchanted leaders of three of the main parties – Rafael Trotman (PNC/R), Khemraj Ramjattan (PPP/C), and Sheila Holder (GAP/WPA) – repudiated their former parties and formed a new one, Alliance for Change, on October 29, 2005.16

Guyana holds regular elections with universal suffrage and secret ballot open to multiple parties. Indeed, the 1992 elections were contested by 11 parties and the 1997 elections by ten. In 2001, although 11 parties met the elections petition deadline, only eight were contesting in enough of the geographic regions to qualify to contest on the national list. Notwithstanding the multiparty contestation, Guyana's elections are complicated by the fact that the main political groups, the PPP/Civic and the PNC/Reform, are organized along racial lines, with mostly Indo-Guyanese supporting the former and mostly Afro-Guyanese supporting the latter. The Indo-Guyanese represent a greater share of the population, as well as commanding more economic resources than their Afro-Guyanese counterparts. The net effect is that it is very unlikely that the PNC/Reform will ever gain political ascendancy, although it is in theory possible that it could form a coalition with some of the smaller parties to straddle the ethnic divide.

The legal basis for the country's democratic governance is the constitution plus the National Registration Act (1967), the Representation of the People Act (1964), the Local Democratic Organs Act (1980), the National Assembly (Validity of Elections) Act (1964), and the Elections Laws (Amendment) Act (2000), among key legislation. The 2005 National Registration (Amendment) Bill was passed in July of that year to allow continuous registration in preparation for the next elections, due in 2006. The new law amends the 1967 National Registration Act, which provided for periodic registration at designated start and end dates.17 Key to the dynamics of electoral accountability and voice is the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), which sets policy for voter registration, maintains the list of voters, and administers all national, regional, and local elections. GECOM comprises a chairman and six commissioners, supported by a secretariat. Under the Constitution (Amendment) Act No. 2 of 2000, the chairman is appointed by the president following consultation between him and the leader of the opposition, who is the parliamentarian heading the party with the largest bloc of votes after the ruling party. The same law specifies how the commissioners are to be named.

Despite a constitution, statutes, and organizational machinery that provide for electoral choice, Guyana gets low marks in practice for free and fair elections, implementation of the extant statutes, management of the organizational machinery, and the dynamics of party campaign financing, civil society engagement, and media operation. For example, the issue of campaign financing has long been a contentious matter. There is no public campaign financing for elections at any level. Instead, political parties and potential candidates raise funds from individuals and corporations inside the country and from the Guyanese diaspora, especially in New York, Toronto, London, and Port of Spain. Accordingly, the ruling party is able to use the power of incumbency in a way that undermines political fairness. As one study notes, there are few real constraints on the ruling party's use of government resources, including print and electronic media, for campaign purposes. In addition, there is "inequitable distribution of private financial resources to competing political parties as various interests groups seek to position themselves to benefit from government favors after the results of elections, and the scheduling of the commissioning of projects in such a manner as to permit 'official occasions' to be used as an excuse to showcase incumbents' successes while in office," among other things.18

The inherent unfairness of this situation is amplified by the nature of the sole legislation on the matter, the Representation of the People's Act, Part III, and how it is administered. The law limits personal campaign expenses for each party contesting elections. It also requires campaign expense reporting after elections and outlines penalties for such actions as illegal campaign payments and employment. But GECOM does not enforce these rules, and therefore no one adheres to them. As one appraisal notes, "Various explanations for the lack of compliance are offered, ranging from the suggestion that the parties themselves reached an informal agreement in 1992 not to comply, to others saying that when they approached GECOM for guidance on fulfilling the requirements, they were told 'don't worry yourselves with that.'"19

Besides the obvious implications of this situation for the perception and actuality of free and fair elections, there are larger implications for the nature and stability of a polity where illegal entrepreneurs or the wealthy few influence electoral choice and public policy. Analysts in Money in Politics recently declared: "The smaller political parties typically have one source of funds, either the party leader or a wealthy individual. There are no laws, regulations, or guidelines governing sources of political party contributions. Businesses donate funds to poᆲlitical parties with the expectation that once in power, party leaders will implement policies that work in the interest of businesses." They added: "'Drug money' is also becoming an increasing source of funding for political parties and political party leaders. Many respondents alleged that drug and other criminal barons have contributed large amounts of money to the ruling party."20

Generally, civil society groups are free to pursue their interests and are funded by individual, corporate, and international donors. The media independence and freedom of expression climate is fairly healthy. The regime does not dominate the media, owning just one of the two major daily newspapers, the Guyana Chronicle. The other, Stabroek News, is independent, as is the monthly news magazine Guyana Review. The government controls just one of the many television stations, Guyana Television, which was merged with the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation in March 2004 to create the National Communications Network. However, the government does control media through other means. These include zero government advertising in some media outlets that criticize official policies, the peremptory closure of the stridently critical CNS Channel 6 TV in January 2005 for a month, and the periodic harassment of media workers. In August 2005, the Association of Caribbean Media Workers sounded the alarm about assaults against journalists and gunfire directed against a vehicle transporting journalists. The government does not attempt to control internet access.

A major point of contention relates to broadcast frequencies. The regime owns the only radio station, a monopoly that has generated local and foreign criticism. President Jagdeo had promised the monopoly would end in mid-2005 with parliamentary action on the long-awaited broadcast legislation. Previously, the government had argued that it could not grant frequencies to private stations, as there was no legislation to govern the action. The new scheme envisages a three-tiered system with public, commercial, and community broadcasting, managed by an independent National Broadcasting Authority.21 But although a draft broadcasting bill has circulated since July 2003, legislative action has been stymied by disputes over its provisions.


  • In the medium term, campaign financing should be regulated, with the provision of new ceilings for campaign spending and meaningful enforcement of all aspects of the legislation by the Guyana Elections Commission. In the long term, thought should be given to having forms of state support for all parties contesting national elections.
  • The government should end the invidious discrimination and censorship inherent in the denial of government advertising to media outlets that are regular critics of its policies and practices.
  • In order to enhance transparency and build confidence among political actors, all national print, radio, television, and electronic media outlets should be listed on all appropriate governmental web portals, with appropriate links provided.
  • Negotiations on the broadcasting bill should be concluded promptly, with a view to ending the government monopoly on radio broadcasting.

Civil Liberties – 4.76

Guyana does not have serious problems with state-sanctioned torture, nor are unjustified imprisonment or arbitrary arrest the norm. The government also is not known for deliberate long-term detention without trial. However, it is common for individuals to become victims of the inefficient and inadequate criminal justice system and be detained for years in police station lockups before trial, or to be imprisoned for lengthy periods as their cases work their way through the legal appeals process. Measures for seeking redress against a senior government official for an infraction are inadequate.

Guyana has five prisons, and most of the larger facilities are overcrowded, some to the point that the situation poses a threat to the safety and well-being of both inmates and guards.22 Thus, even when rehabilitation is intended, it is not feasible. Beyond this, financial, manpower, training, and equipment constraints make for awful physical conditions, poor sanitary facilities, substandard meals, and very limited medical attention. Furthermore, security in some prisons is compromised, which leads to many prison breaks. Conditions at many pretrial detention facilities often are no better than at prisons. Inmates are known to die in detention. For instance, Kellowan Etwaroo's dead body was found by his wife in his cell at the La Grange police station on July 7, 2004. The autopsy revealed death to be the result of massive head injuries, apparently caused by knocking his head against the cell wall for several hours.23

Generally, Guyana's rulers score high marks on promises but low marks on delivery. Political elites seem to believe that delivering grand speeches or signing treaties ipso facto solves a problem at hand and that they can afford to pay scant attention to implementation and evaluation. Crime is one example that highlights the government's effectiveness challenge. The level of crime has created a climate of fear enveloping most of the nation.24 In April 2003, Steve Lesniak, security chief at the U.S. embassy in Georgetown, was kidnapped; his family paid US$10,000 for his return.25 Since then, the crime situation has improved in some areas but deteriorated in others. For instance, murders declined by 36 percent between 2003 and 2004 – from 206 to 131. But in November 2005, Deputy Police Commissioner Henry Greene declared that although serious crimes, including murder, declined between January 1 and November 20, 2005, armed robbery rose by 50 percent for the same period.26

Yet the government has made some headway in combating crime, helped by private sector bodies, nations such as the United States and Britain, and international agencies such as the Inter-American Development Bank. Announced in June 2005, the national drug strategy proposes action in several fields: partnerships with the private sector and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), establishment of a national commission on law and order and a community policing ministerial unit, tougher laws against racial incitement and violence, penal reform, gun control measures, improved law enforcement facilities, and acquisition of equipment and training, among other things.27 Implementation of the strategy remains to be seen.

In addition, new anticrime legislation has been adopted, including the 2003 Criminal Law (Offenses) (Amendment) Act, the 2002 Prevention of Crimes (Amendment) Act, the 2002 Racial Hostility (Amendment) Act, and the 2003 Kidnapping Act. The police have also carried out special anticrime maneuvers jointly with the army. For instance, Operation Stiletto, conducted in October 2005 in the crime-prone village of Buxton, which involved 400 policemen and soldiers, aimed at flushing out criminals.28 However, some of the laws and maneuvers have been criticized. In Operation Stiletto, for example, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) was alarmed about rule of law, free movement of citizens, and privacy related to data collection for a crime database. In 2003, Amnesty International raised concerns about the Criminal Law Offenses (Amendment) Act, the Prevention of Crime (Amendment) Act, and other laws, noting that "criminal legislation recently enacted could seriously jeopardize human rights and should be reformed in accordance with the country's international human rights obligations."29

In January 2004, a self-confessed informant publicly claimed knowledge of "death squads," with membership that included existing and former police officers. Amnesty International later acknowledged receiving a list of some 64 alleged victims. Local press reports alluded to telephone records purportedly showing that the minister of home affairs, whose portfolio includes the police, had communicated with members of the squad. The affair compelled the minister to take administrative leave, and it precipitated the creation of a presidential commission of inquiry (PCI), comprising Appeals Court Judge Ian Chang, former chancellor of the judiciary and attorney general Keith Massiah, and retired Guyana Defense Force chief of staff Major General Norman McLean. On June 24, 2004, just weeks before the PCI was formed, self-confessed death squad member George Bacchus was executed while sleeping at home, where his brother, Shafeek Bacchus, had also been murdered on January 4, 2004.

The PCI submitted its report to the president in April 2005. It stated that the crime wave had spawned the establishment of death squads, but it found no direct complicity by the minister. However, it cited so much evidence of ministerial irregularities that his suitability for the position was widely questioned. When President Jagdeo reinstated him, his action was rebuked by local political and civic activists and by the United States, Britain, Canada, and the European Union, with threats of aid suspension in some cases. The minister eventually resigned, effective May 31, 2005.

The constitution and several laws institute gender equity in several areas, and there have been noteworthy accomplishments over the years. For example, women workers are protected during pregnancy and after childbirth from discrimination, disciplinary action, or dismissal for their pregnancy or reasons connected with their pregnancy by the constitution, the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act, and the Prevention of Discrimination Act.30 A persisting problem, however, is enforcement. For example, domestic violence cuts across racial and economic lines. The Domestic Violence Act does criminalize domestic violence and gives women the right to seek protection. But for several reasons – primarily lack of resources and training, and ingrained attitudes – the legislation is often not enforced. Thus, as the Canada-based Guyanese scholar Alissa Trotz asserts, "In contemporary Guyana a relatively progressive constitutional order and legal framework coexists with pervasive gender inequalities within the family and the workforce."31

The age of sexual consent garnered considerable attention during 2004 and 2005 after the escapades of a fairly prominent businessman and his 13-year-old child lover drew significant media and legal attention. This led to a change in October 2005 of the official age of sexual consent from 13 to 16.32 In November 2005, the GHRA called the abuse of girls Guyana's "single most pressing human rights problem." In an indictment of government and society, it cited the actions of some judges and magistrates, who fail to protect female victims of physical and sexual abuse from further trauma in court; failure of the legal profession to reform a culture hostile to sexual crime victims; failure of the government to use the opportunity presented by the debate over the age of sexual consent to effectively protect young women from sexual predators; failure of the Ministry of Human Services to shelter vulnerable girls adequately; and failure of major religious bodies to confront violence against women of all faiths.33 Moreover, the ineffective response to the upsurge in rapes is troubling. In 647 reported rape cases between 2000 and 2004, there were only 9 convictions; in 2004, only 40 percent of rape reports resulted in charges; and the number of girls below age 13 who had had sexual relations rose 16-fold from 2000 to 2004.

Between 2003 and 2005, the issue of human trafficking also commanded national and international attention following the release of scathing reports by the U.S. Department of State and Amnesty International, especially the trafficking for sexual purposes of Amerindian (American Indian) girls. In response, in April 2005 President Jagdeo signed the Combating Trafficking in Persons Act. The law criminalizes human trafficking as well as actions that facilitate it and provides victims with immunity from prosecution. It also offers assistance and protection to victims of human trafficking, establishes a national task force to implement measures for the prevention of trafficking, and makes trafficking an extraditable offense.34

Constitutional and statutory safeguards exist for most ethnic, religious, and other groups. However, there are credible claims of discrimination against Afro-Guyanese in housing and land distribution and in employment. Moreover, notwithstanding many efforts to improve the economic and social conditions of the Amerindians, their circumstances lag those of the rest of the population. People with disabilities also face discrimination. While a 2003 constitutional amendment does proscribe discrimination against people with disabilities, no law specifically protects them. The National Policy on Rights of People with Disabilities that does exist lacks enforceable legal standing.35

Freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are protected. The major religions in Guyana are Christianity – notably Catholics, Anglicans, and Evangelicals – Hinduism, and Islam. Partly because of the racial and religious diversity in Guyana and the desire of various governments to foster inclusiveness, since political independence in 1966 many religious observances have been institutionalized as national holidays. Freedoms of association and assembly also are protected. Unionism is strong. Civil society activism through demonstrations and protests is permitted, and the police rarely use excessive force. Exceptions are places such as the crime-prone village of Buxton or the Tiger Bay section of the capital, Georgetown, where a civil protest could well be a cover for decidedly criminal intentions, requiring the use of force.


  • The safety and well-being of inmates and prison guards in detention centers and prisons should command more attention on the part of the government, with greater accountability and better incentives to improve management at prisons and detention centers and working conditions for guards.
  • Adequate and appropriate training should be provided to police and social service workers to facilitate better enforcement of the Domestic Violence Act. In order to make the training useful, personnel, equipment, and other resources also are needed to correct enforcement deficiencies.
  • The government should focus attention on people with disabilities by conferring legal status to the National Policy on the Rights of People with Disabilities and granting adequate resources to the Ministry of Human Services and NGOs that foster the interests of people with disabilities.
  • The government should go beyond rhetoric in relation to the national drug strategy and provide periodic parliamentary and public reports on the progress of the plan's implementation.
  • The Guyana Police Force and the Guyana Defense Force should implement confidence-building measures to restore some of the public trust and confidence lost due to the death squad saga and the outcomes of some anticrime operations.

Rule of Law – 4.79

The primacy of the rule of law in civil and criminal matters is respected in Guyana. Judicial independence is the norm, although credible allegations have surfaced in recent years about executive branch intrusion into judicial business. Allegations of judicial misconduct are rare, and they create discomfort in the society when they occur.

Overall, the dispensation of justice is affected by a shortage of magistrates, court officers, and other personnel, and by low salaries, inadequate training, and poor facilities. In addition, the highest judicial post, chancellor of the judiciary, has been vacant since April 2005, when Chancellor Desiree Bernard resigned to become a founding judge of the new regional judiciary, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). Bernard's departure prompted discord over procedures to fill that vacancy. This was complicated by the government's attempt to conflate some of the duties of the chancellor, who heads the judiciary, and the chief justice, who heads the Supreme Court, through the introduction of the High Court Amendment Bill in 2005. The proposed law was viewed by some as a reflection of the government's desire to alter the legal and criminal justice architecture. The government eventually withdrew the draft in November 2005.36

Although citizens have the right to and access to independent counsel in criminal and civil matters and are presumed innocent until proven guilty, the net effect of the resource constraints and inefficiencies is that sometimes judgment takes place without justice, and often due process is undermined. For example, as described in a February 2005 letter to the editor, citizen Raymond Jaundoo waited 15 months for the judge's decision in his civil litigation against corporate giant Weiting and Richter.37 The Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the Guyana Defense Force (GDF) high command respect and accept the principle of civilian control. Generally, senior security sector officials make efforts to remain outside the political fray. Nevertheless, as the ruling party is led predominantly by Indo-Guyanese, some ruling-party officials may well be uncomfortable that both the DPF and GDF heads are Afro-Guyanese, and thus suspect their loyalty to the government.

While property rights are protected by law, inefficiencies in the administration of justice frustrate property transactions. This serves as a disincentive to investment initiatives by local and foreign entrepreneurs.38 For instance, securing clear title to land often is cumbersome and time-consuming, as is acquiring licenses and permits to operate businesses. This is aggravated by the slowness of court proceedings, the inefficiency of the registrar of courts in tracking cases accurately, and the perception of political influence-peddling in some large investment transactions, among other things.39


  • The government and the relevant opposition parties should quickly resolve the issue of the appointment of the new chancellor of the judiciary to avoid the matter becoming a core campaign issue in the 2006 parliamentary and presidential elections.
  • The government, with appropriate NGO and international partners, should address the incapacity of the police and other components of the criminal justice system and the social services system to address the upsurge in rapes.
  • The government needs to address the inefficiencies of the justice system by improving training and salaries of all court employees.

Anticorruption and Transparency – 3.99

Clearly, the economic travails, institutional weaknesses, criminal justice inefficiencies, and nexus between politics and race cited earlier provide fertile ground for corruption, which exists through acts of commission and omission in government ministries and other executive branch agencies, in the police force, and elsewhere. It is therefore not surprising that Guyana's score in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index was 2.5 on a scale of 1 to 10, the same as Bolivia and Guatemala, and lower than Cuba and Suriname. Several different laws deal with various aspects of corruption and other malpractice: the Integrity Commission Act, the Procurement Act, the Criminal Law Enforcement Act, the Fair Trading Bill, and others. Thus, the corruption challenge relates less to the absence of laws and more to their poor implementation, the socioeconomic and sociopolitical environment, and political interference with due process when senior government officials or high-level party apparatchiks are involved.

For instance, in July 2004 it became apparent that McNeal Enterprises, a company owned by the presidential adviser on empowerment, which was not a licensed wildlife exporter, had been involved in efforts to export 25 dolphins valued at US$500,000. No one was charged. A review by the auditor general of the operations of the Wildlife Division in January 2005 highlighted fraud possibly exceeding G$50 million (US$263,850). It is noteworthy that the auditor general complained about political interference in his investigation, the results of which have yet to be published. In addition, G$14 million (US$73,880) was stolen from the old-age pension fund in 2003. About G$3.l million (US$16,360) was repaid, but no one was prosecuted. Thirteen postal officials were dismissed, but 14 others allegedly involved in the printing and cashing of counterfeit pension vouchers kept their jobs.

Also, an illegal migration scheme was uncovered in 2004 that involved falsification of documents granting entitlement to import vehicles free of duty. About 52 files were involved. Two junior officers of the ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs were charged, but the outcome of their cases remains a mystery. In the case of Guyoil, in October 2005 the head of fuel marketing, a former army major, was dismissed for complicity in fraud that included the disappearance of G$85 million (US $448,550), among other things. The probe was still under way at the end of November 2005.40 However, despite the instances of corruption and other malpractice, all government workers are not corrupt; most are law-abiding, working under tough conditions, and guided by a sense of propriety.

Much hope had been placed in the Integrity Commission created in 1997 to help curb corruption. However, as a review by the Guyana Fiduciary Oversight Project found, the commission is underfunded, unfocused, and ignored by many officials. Among other things, the Fiduciary Oversight Project suggested publication annually of only personal interest information and not the financial details of assets, liabilities, and income. Moreover, it recommended that the declaration of public interests could cover sources of income, directorships held, bank accounts possessed, state contracts, family trusts, real estate owned, overseas travel undertaken, and gifts received. Transparency received a boost in December 2004 with the passage of amendments to the Parliamentary Standing Order, allowing meetings of the parliamentary Sectoral and Public Accounts committees – which examine the auditor general's reports and Public Accounts – to be opened to the public. However, deliberations of the recently constituted Parliamentary Management Committee, which considers and decides on the key aspects of the running of National Assembly, will remain secret.41

The budget process is open to legislative review, but government contracts and the management of foreign aid lack transparency and efficiency. There is some access to governmental information through access to the parliamentary chambers, although the number of citizens able to gain information is severely limited by physical and bureaucratic constraints. However, the government information agency, the office of the president, GECOM, and other agencies maintain websites to which many government documents are uploaded. Many of the sites also are kept fairly up-to-date, although the National Assembly's website, which has some useful information as well, is less so. Notwithstanding all the information available on the web, Guyana is still far from having a political culture that supports freedom of information.


  • The government should consider allowing public participation in additional parliamentary committees as a way to increase transparency and foster greater citizen involvement in the business of democratic governance.
  • The Speaker of the National Assembly should organize special orientation sessions for journalists and civil society leaders so they can better understand parliament's structure and operation and, thus, be better able to take advantage of transparency opportunities such as public access to committee meetings.
  • The government should implement recommendations of the Fiduciary Oversight Project on a phased basis, with pursuit of appropriate technical and financial assistance from interested international partners.


Ivelaw L. Griffith, a political scientist, is Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Radford University in Virginia. An expert on Caribbean and Inter-American security, drugs, crime, and politics, his most recent book is Caribbean Security in the Age of Terror (2004).


1 For examination of the Jonestown drama, see Linden Lewis, "The Jonestown Affair: Towards a Sociological Analysis," Transition, Vol. 3, No. 1, 1980: 42-56; U.S. Congress. House. Committee on Foreign Affairs, The Assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan and the Jonestown, Guyana, Tragedy, Report of the Staff Investigative Group. 96th Cong., 1st Sess., May 15, 1979; and David Chidester, Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, the People's Temple, and Jonestown, 3rd edition (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003).

2 See Gary Brana-Shute, "Guyana 1992: It's about time," Hemisphere 5 (1993), 40-44; Ralph Premdas, "Guyana: the Critical Elections of 1992 and a Regime Change," Caribbean Affairs 6 (1993), 111-40; Observing Guyana's Electoral Process, 1990-1992 (Atlanta, GA: Council of Freely Elected Heads of Government, 1993); and Ivelaw L. Griffith, "Political Change, Democracy, and Human Rights in Guyana," Third World Quarterly 18, No. 2 (1997), 270-71.

3 2004 Social and Economic Indicators of Borrowing Member Countries (Bridgetown, Barbados: Caribbean Development Bank, April 2005), 9.

4 Ibid., 10, 68, 72.

5 "Background Notes" (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, August 2005).

6 "Executive Summary," in 2005 Poverty Reduction Strategy Progress Report (Georgetown: Government of Guyana, June 2005), ii,

7 "Remittances to Select LAC Countries in 2004" (Washington, D.C.: Inter-American Development Bank [IDB], 2005), The five other high-remittance countries are Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic.

8 Ibid.

9 Guyana: A Macro-Social Economic Assessment of the Damage and Losses Caused by the January-February 2005 Flooding (Santiago/New York: Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean [ECLAC]/United Nations Development Program [UNDP]), esp. Slides 13, 14, 24, 25,

10 Joe Mozingo, "In Guyana, Water is the Enemy," Miami Herald, February 21, 2005, 1A.

11 For example, see "Victoria Villagers meet President over flood Relief," Stabroek News, February 14, 2005, available at; and "Ethnic Relations body calls for Equal access to Flood Assistance," Stabroek News, February 12, 2005, available at

12 "General Elections Declaration of Results," Official Gazette, Legal Supplement B, 30 January 1998,; "Herdmanston Accord" (Georgetown: Caribbean Community [CARICOM], 17 January 1998),; and "Electoral Observation in Guyana 1997," in Electoral Observations in the Americas Series, No. 11 (Washington, D.C.: Organization of American States [OAS], 8 April 1998),

13 See Douglas Rae, The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1967); and Enid Lakeman, How Democracies Vote (London: Faber, 1970); Rudolph James and Harold Lutchman, Law and the Political Environment in Guyana (Turkeyen, University of Guyana, 1984), 75-87; Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM),

14 See Observing the 2001 Guyana Elections: Final Report (Atlanta, GA: The Carter Center, The Democracy Program, February 2002),

15 Ibid, especially 46-49.

16 See Miranda La Rose, "Alliance For Change Launched – Ramjattan Leader and Chairman, Trotman Presidential Candidate," Stabroek News, 30 October 2005,

17 "Revised Registration Bill Passed after Long Debate," Stabroek News, 15 July 2005,

18 Sheila V. Holder, "Political Party and Campaign Financing in Guyana," in Steven Griner and Daniel Zarotta, eds., From Rhetoric to Best Practices: The Challenge of Political Financing in the Americas (Washington, D.C.: OAS Department for Democratic and Political Affairs, 2004), 8. Interestingly, the Guyana dollar exchange in 1990 was around G$45 = US$1. In early 2006, it was about G$190 = US$1.

19 Shari Bryan and Denise Baer, eds., Money in Politics: A Study of Party Financing Practices in 22 Countries (Washington, D.C.: National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, 2005), 65. The relevant sections of the campaign financing legislation are available at

20 Money in Politics, Ibid, 66. For a discussion of some larger implications, see Ivelaw L. Griffith and Tevor Munroe, "Drugs and Democracy in the Caribbean," Journal of Commonwealth and Comparative Politics Vol. 33 (November) 1995: 357-76; and Ivelaw L. Griffith, "Caribbean Security in the Age of Terror: Challenges of Intrusion and Governance," in Denis Benn and Kenneth O. Hall, eds., Governance in the Age of Globalization (Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2003), 383-415.

21 "2004 World Press Freedom Review" (Vienna: International Press Institute [IPI], 2005), For a copy of the draft bill, visit Guyana's Government Information Agency (GINA),

22 Ibid.

23 For example, see "Guyana Jailbreak Prisoners Held," BBC, 14 November 2005,; and "US Slams Guyana on Police Abuse, Shoddy Prisons," Stabroek News, 1 March 2005,

24 "Public Safety: A Shameful Situation," Guyana Review 13 (August 2005), 19-21; and Michael Lettieri, "Justice and Democracy in Guyana fly Limply in the Breeze" (Washington, D.C.: Council on Hemispheric Affairs [COHA], Memorandum to the Press, 8 September 2005),

25 Rickey Singh, "U.S. Special Forces Probing Kidnapping Saga," Caribbean Style, 13 April 2003,; "Following early Morning Kidnapping US Diplomat Released," Guyana Chronicle, 13 April 2003, 1.

26 "Robbery under arms up 50% – most of the guns used come from Brazil," Stabroek News, 27 November 2005,

27 "Update on the Drug Strategy Master Plan" (GINA, 31 October 2005),; "Law and Order Commission to Review Previous Crime Reports," Stabroek News, 1 December 2005,; "Closed Circuit TV Cameras to be in place by year end – Teixeira," Stabroek News, 13 November 2005,

28 "Operation Stiletto," Stabroek News, 31 October 2005,

29 "'Stiletto' raises rule of law concerns – human rights group says in reply to criticisms," Stabroek News, 4 November 2005,; "Guyana: Human Rights and Crime Control Not Mutually Exclusive" (London: Amnesty International [AI], Report No 35/003/2003, 13 January 2003),

30 See, "National Labor Law Profile: Guyana" (Geneva: International Labor Organization, June 2004),

31 D. Alissa Trotz, ""Between Despair and Hope: Women and Violence in Contemporary Guyana," Small Axe 15 (March 2004), 5.

32 Edlyn Benfield, "Businessman Grabs 13-year-old Sweetheart from Aunt," Stabroek News, 22 May 2004; Andre Haynes, "National Assembly Fixes age of Consent at 16," Stabroek News, 25 October 2005,

33 "Abuse of Girls Single Most Pressing Human Rights Problem – GHRA," Stabroek News, 25 November 2005,

34 "Public Safety: A Shameful Situation," Guyana Review 13 (August 2005), 21.; Martin Patt, "Human Trafficking and Modern-day Slavery" (University of Massachusetts, 2004),

35 "Human Rights: Persons with Disabilities," Guyana Review 12 (December 2004), 43-45; "Guyana: Rights of People with Disabilities" (Chicago and Washington, D.C.: Center for International Rehabilitation [CIR], 2004),

36 "Chancellor Bernard named to Caribbean Court," Stabroek News, 20 November 2004, 1; "Jagdeo, Corbin begin Consultations on Chancellor," Stabroek News, 21 April 2005,; "CJ Bill put off – after Strenuous Opposition Protest," Stabroek News, 25 November 2005,

37 "Waiting Fifteen months for Judge's Decision," Stabroek News, 23 February 2005,; "US Ambassador urges Reform to Backlogged Court System," Stabroek News, 12 March 2005,

38 See Anthony Interlandi, "Property Rights and the Rule of Law" (Georgetown, Guyana: U.S. Embassy, speech, 24 August 2004),; "Guyana to Grapple with Intellectual Property Rights," Stabroek News, 23 April 2005,; "2005 Index of Economic Freedom" (Washington, D.C./New York: Heritage Foundation /The Wall Street Journal [WSJ], 2005),

39 Ibid.

40 See "Auditor General Probing Fraud at Guyoil," Stabroek News, 9 September 2005,; "President orders Probe into Corruption Allegations at Parika Marketing Center," Stabroek News, 11 September 2005,; "Fuel Marker on the Street – two GEA Workers to be fired," Stabroek News, 8 October 2005,; "Corruption Revisited," Stabroek News, 8 November 2005,; Jeune Bailey Van-Keric, "Seven Man C'ttee to look into Rogue Cops," Guyana Chronicle, 29 November 2005,\l.

41 "Some Parliament Committees to be open to the Public," Stabroek News, 17 December 2004,

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