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Book Review - Accountability book challenges government

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The highly anticipated new book, “Improving Public Accountability: The Guyana experience, 1985 -2007,” by Dr Swatantra Anand Goolsarran, portrays an anemic Guyanese society wrought with bureaucratic largess, corruption, and public mistrust.

 

This meticulously researched and measured undertaking - shaped by his doctoral dissertation - explains its strong academic leaning.  Itis exploratory, but concise, as it confronts a national scourge that is global in scope.

The author is deliberative, defining almost laboriously, the constitution of public accountability. He details the requisites of financial management at a governmental level, defines short and long term objectives, and delves into operational planning. He touts the essentiality of the legislative audit (also called the Supreme Audit Institution), which "carries out ex post evaluations of financial transactions and the performance of government entities against established norms, highlights deviations, and makes recommendations for improvement of performance."

He is thorough, traversing the most innovative systems (especially in the UK), that improve governmental efficiency and productivity. He explores traditional budgeting methods - their strengths and weakness, and how they compare against newer models. Textually, this is an exhaustive exercise in organisational management. But does it resonate beyond pedantry? Does Dr Goolsarran reach every crevice of Guyana's society? 

An overly collegiate approach is risky business (no pun intended). But Dr Goolsarran avoids the dryness, the highly specialised academic dribble. At the right juncture, he deftly changes gears - effortlessly - as he marches through the historical and political imbroglio that has blighted Guyana. "Accountability," ever so often, emerges from sterility, and engages readers who may be enthralled by the complexities of Caribbean political history.

From the vaunted and enviable status of "Breadbasket of the Caribbean,” from the 1950s to the early '70s, Guyana, he argues, devolved into a dysfunctional society, marked by a moribund public sector, under the stewardship of Forbes Burnham, and (to a lesser degree) Desmond Hoyte. Here, naked politics - if only for a moment - takes center stage, unearthing an indelibly painful past. "Burnham left a highly demoralized, politicized public service, depleted skills as many Guyanese left for overseas or the private sector...tight control of the media... a culture of non-accountability at almost all level of government; and an ineffective legislative audit," the author asserts..

Throughout, the media is noted for its importance in ensuring a responsible society. Dr Goolsarran quotes the renowned E.L.Normanton: "The ultimate purpose of public accountability is to provide information. Those who would restrict the flow of information about the activities of bodies which spend public money and executive decisions are following an authoritarian line..."
The underbelly of this seminal work is the eradication of corruption and cronyism - perennial social problems. He cites the Corruption Perception Index which annually tracts the level of corruption in over a hundred countries. Guyana predictably fairs unfavorably. Regrettably, in the past, politicians, fearing incrimination, have compromised the effectiveness of integrity commissions. The author remains true to his business management forte, with little mention of Guyana's sociological problems, viz., an uneasy pluralism that has always betrayed nationalism.  

He traces the post 1991 challenges faced by the Audit Office of Guyana, the Public Accounts Committee, and the Public Procurement Commission that sought to restore public confidence. In the end, though, change has been slow, cosmetic.

Of the future of his native land, Dr Goolsarran establishes a template for transparency, accountability, and good governance that includes: the improvement of financial reporting and audits; the appointment of an auditor general; establishing a time frame for issuing Treasury Memorandum; appointing and redefining the role of the Ombudsman "as an institution, sui generis" (emphasis mine); combating corruption in government with an Integrity Commission composed of competent, independent professionals; and the enactment of a whistle-blower protection policy to protect individuals who report cases of mismanagement, fraud and corruption.

"Improving Public Accountability" scores on multiple levels - offering a discursive but poignant discourse on a subject that ripples globally. For the most part, the author has identified Guyana's nagging problems, and has offered lucid and resounding solutions to bolster economic opportunities and the democratic process. That they would be heeded with exigency, is anyone's guess.

Dr Glenville Ashby, literary critic - Caribbean Book Review -
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Improving Public Accountability: The Guyana Experience 1985 -2007 by Dr Swatantra Anand Goolsarran

Ratings: *****:  Highly Recommended