Questions have made many in government uncomfortable

Dear Editor,

This letter was submitted to the Guyana Chronicle as a response to an extensive article captioned, ‘Finance Ministry slams Christopher Ram’s latest journey of speculation and misleading statements.’  Seven days after it was sent in, it still has not appeared.

The only reason I can think of for the three-page April 20 response by the Ministry of Finance (which appeared in GC on April 21) to my letter appearing in the Sunday Stabroek and the Kaieteur News of April 18 is that my exposure of the corrosive effect of first and second generation corruption, conflicting actions within Low Carbon Development Strategy (LCDS) policies, the questionable award of the Amaila Falls Road Project contract to Synergy, a mini-company owned by a political friend, Mr Fip Moitlall, the dubious role of the politically-directed National In-dustrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and the repeated, costly and embarrassing mistakes by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh, has made many personally uncomfortable, to the extent that a rancorous public rebuttal became necessary. I refuse to reciprocate by descending to that level. Instead, out of respect for the Guyanese public’s right to the truth, I will rebut, point by point the April 20 diatribe by the Ministry of Finance.

The ministry challenges me on the LCDS implications of the NICIL-awarded road contract given to a friend of the political family, so reminiscent of another such case involving the Ramroops, friends of the President. In that case, tens, and possibly hundreds of millions of dollars of tax concessions, rent reduction and other benefits were engineered for the Ramroops by NICIL whose board is chaired by Dr Singh.

In a famous misunderstanding of the law, the concessions were subsequently approved by Cabinet and granted under the hands of the same Dr Singh.

When Mr Yesu Persaud asked for such concessions to be made widely available, President Jagdeo publicly abused him, directing NICIL’s CEO Winston Brassington to lecture Mr Persaud about the tax laws. Two days after Jagdeo’s abuse, in Business Page I examined for readers the relevant concessions legislation and pointed out that it was the President, Drs Luncheon and Ashni Singh, Messrs Winston Brassington, Geoff DaSilva and the entire Cabinet and Board of NICIL that needed some tax education. No one should harbour more embarrassment from that exposure than Dr Singh who, wearing three different hats, should have been aware of the provisions of the legislation and of the extent of his powers to grant such concessions. Synergy seems to be a case of history repeating itself.

Neither of the two drafts of the LCDS contains any calculation of the carbon emissions from the construction or operation of any of the development schemes outlined in the second draft.

Under the Guyana-Norway Agreement, there are two penalties which could apply – one for increasing deforestation, and the other for the timber cleared for the access road to the dam site. How I arrived at the USD 14.2 million for a road-associated potential penalty is technical and takes up valuable editorial space.

I have posted the details on my website chrisram.net, but I doubt that the Ministry of Finance is concerned about facts and figures.

If they were, they would also take note of Janette Bulkan’s letter published by Kaieteur News on March 29, in which she pointed out that the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of 2002 on the Amaila Falls project available on the website of the Environment Protection Agency was for a much smaller project.

The document acknowledges that an expansion of capacity would require a fresh EIA, but that would get in someone’s way.

Further, the ministry’s attempt to confuse my stated concern about the Synergy road contract with hydro is artful, and even dishonest. The two are clearly separate but have come to represent the modus vivendi of this ministry in particular, and the government in general.

As a private company, NICIL is not subject to the stringent rules of the Procurement Act and the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA). It is subject to lower standards of accountability under a political board that includes Drs Luncheon and Singh and Messrs Robert Persaud, Geoff DaSilva and Winston Brassington. To divert attention from “NICIL/ Government,” the Ministry of Finance in its April 20 statement conveniently introduces the Ministry of Works, which was not once mentioned in the Amaila Project Request for Proposal issued by NICIL.

That unholy combination is not unlike the Privatisation Unit/NICIL hybrid, which allows it, chameleon-like, to be and act like a government department when it is convenient, as in this case, and like a private company when it does not want the constitution, the FMAA and the rules of accountability to apply.

Let me correct some of the other issues which the Ministry of Finance chose to distort.

Queens Atlantic

I had objected to the illegal concessions granted to that company. To the extent that a person fails to honour his/her investment commitment, the concessions should be revoked. The only investment of substance by QA has been the newspaper which was not even included in its investment proposal seeking the hundreds of millions of concessions. But if the Lord gives, who else dares take back?

The Berbice River Bridge

My objections were all of a financial nature. They were: (1) Winston Brassington’s attempts to have me withhold a Business Page article for one week.

It turned out that he needed that week to get the Roger Luncheon-led NIS to invest in the bridge. (2) The massive tax concessions given to everyone involved, even tangentially, in the bridge. (3) The fact that despite these concessions, a Berbician car owner pays twenty times as much to use the Jagdeo Bridge as his Demerarian counterpart pays to use the Burnham Bridge. I did not realise at the time that unlike the Burnham Bridge, cyclists and pedestrians in Berbice could not cross their bridge.

RUSAL

In negotiations led by the President and Mr Brassington, we have given away our bauxite to a company owned by a Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a man with a reputation for strong tactics and for lavishly entertaining foreign officials, and who like some of our own top people, has had his own visa problems. (See London Guardian, October 31, 2008.) RUSAL is now actively engaged in union-busting in Guyana and yet earns the tacit admiration and undisguised support of this administration.

Arising out of its secret negotiations with President Jagdeo and Mr Brassington, RUSAL has been granted exemptions from just about everything, including the bauxite levy.

But to divert attention, the Ministry of Finance chooses to speak of jobs. As if Mr Deripaska came to Guyana to provide employment, rather than obtain free bauxite for his Russian plants, acquired under circumstances that can still excite!

Finally, let me remind the Finance Minister that I have challenged his knowledge of the sinister history of the VAT rate, conflicts of interest involving his ministry and the Audit Office, and his veracity in the National Assembly over a $4 billion payment to GuySuCo. No space was found in his ministry’s three page production to enlighten citizens on where he stands on any of the issues raised, or, on where any of the issues raised stand.

Yours faithfully,
Christopher Ram

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