The Alliance For Change (AFC) yesterday accused the government of locking off more than $50 billion through holding company NICIL and declared that the opposition will use its parliamentary majority to ensure this matter is investigated fully.
“Reputable sources have analyzed that over $50 billion of the people’s money is supposed to be in the NICIL account and many more billions are being held in other accounts under the control of the PPP administration,” the party’s chairman Khemraj Ramjattan said, reading from a prepared statement during a press conference at the Sidewalk Café.
Ramjattan said that as a consequence in excess of $50 billion has effectively been cut from the 2012 National Budget by the PPP/C government. This money, which is being held in the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Ltd (NICIL) account, he argued, is “money accrued from the sale of assets” that were owned by the citizens. ”As a result, the money should have been placed in the people’s treasury. Instead, the government which authorised NICIL to act as the ‘sale agent,’ has [funnelled] the money in an account under their control. This has resulted in a situation where the elected representatives of the people cannot monitor or even question how the money is being used,” he noted.
Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh defended NICIL’s modus operandi and stated it was in compliance with the Companies Act. “NICIL’s operations are completely consistent with what is provided for in the Companies Act and one cannot argue that NICIL funds should come into the Consolidated Fund and not argue the same for any other government company,” he added, saying there are several other companies that are state-owned that operate under the Companies Act and conduct their activities, including retaining revenues and meeting their costs. “NICIL is no different in this regard,” he further emphasised.
Asked yesterday if there was any evidence to support the AFC’s accusation, Ramjattan replied in the affirmative. He told reporters that “there is supporting documentation which will be revealed by one of our advisors.” He pointed out that among the sums being referred to is the US$25M from the sale of GT&T shares, sale of lands to the Guyana Bank for Trade and Industry and several other transactions that amounted to billions of dollars.
He said that at one time, NICIL produced annual reports, the last being in 2003 when it was recorded that the revenues in the NICIL account amounted to some $33B. He said that another piece of supporting evidence is “the tight lip of the Minister of Finance and also Mr. [Winston] Brassington,” the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NICIL.
Ramjattan continued that their silence is evidence that NICIL is in possession of huge sums of money. “That is why they are keeping it away from the public scrutiny, particularly the parliament’s scrutiny,” he added.
He said too that other experts are saying that the amount being questioned is far more than $50B.
Moses Nagamootoo, an AFC executive member later said the government has publically acknowledged that there is a sum of $50B in the NICIL account and the question now is how these monies would be divested. He noted that stakeholders who are the people of Guyana are being denied the benefits of this money.
“We will demand that NICIL through the government should give a full account of every transaction of NICIL, every divestment, every property sold. To whom and for how much and then we will see who the beneficiaries of the sums are,” he said. He added that everybody knows who is benefiting from the NICIL funds. He went as far as to say that who will benefit from the construction of the controversial Marriott Hotel is known to some.
Ramjattan said that the process of establishing the Economic Services Committee of Parliament had started in view of the High Court’s recent ruling that the Committee of Selection as currently composed is legal and lawful. He said that now “we will have to make a further amendment to the Standing Orders. Right now the Standing Order has the Economic Services Committee should have four members from the government side and three members from the opposition side. There is a motion in Parliament to reconfigure that that the opposition will have four members and the government will have three members and so you will have a 3:3:1 scenario.”
He expressed the firm belief that APNU will support their approach that after the reconfiguration is completed “we then call the very first investigation under that Economic Services Committee it will be NICIL. We will order papers and documents and even the Minister of Finance to come and answer questions.”
Ramjattan stressed that the party’s assessment of the situation could be wrong but noted that “it is enlightened guess work because the honesty is not forthcoming from the government. So we are going to pressure them and that is the function of a scrutinising opposition.”