Local transparency group urges probe of Huawei US$50,000 gift

The local branch of Transparency International yesterday called on the Auditor General to investigate whether the government’s use of Huawei’s US$50,000 “thank you gift” was in line with the rules governing public expenditure.

The body also questioned government’s single-sourcing of the contract to lay fibre optic cables to the Chinese company and called on the government to publicly address questions about the contract and the “gift”.

In a press statement yesterday, Transparency Institute Guyana Inc (TIGI) said that “in recent weeks print media has focused its cross hairs on the government’s One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) project and in particular on the source of funding and the manner of administration of the project.” The group pointed to disclosures that the company that was awarded the US$14 million contract for the laying of fibre optic cables here gave the government a US$50,000 gift which was used to purchase computers for the OLPF project.

Noting that the government has not denied these allegations, the body said that it “is concerned that gifts of this nature are inappropriate particularly in circumstances where there has been single sourcing procurement for the supply of goods and services. Not only does it raise questions on the procurement process but also questions of ethics and good governance which can result in the erosion of public confidence in the government,” the release added.

TIGI was incorporated under the Companies Act late last year. The body’s aim is to promote transparency and eradicate corruption locally. The body’s founding directors are: Bernard Crawford, David James, Fr Compton Meerabux, Keith Park, Gino Persaud, Nadia Sagar and Enrico Woolford.  Christopher Ram is the organisation’s legal consultant.

Pointing to Section 29 of the Procurement Act, the organisation said that single source procurement is prohibited save for specific circumstances, including where only one supplier is available, where the goods are needed urgently due to a catastrophic event or if the procurement relates to national defence/ security. “In this case of single sourcing procurement was the criterion for Section 29 of the Procurement Act met?  What of the requirements of Sections 16 and 38 of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act 2003 which deal with public expenditure and the receipt of public monies raised or received?  Has the purchase of the laptops with the US$50,000 gift met the requirements of the FMA Act in respect of the expenditure of public funds?”  the body asked.

Several other prominent citizens have raised concerns about the propriety of the transaction.

Former project manager of the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) project Jud Lohmeyer was the person who disclosed that the 142 computers handed over at the official launch of the OLPF in January had been purchased with money given by Huawei.

He said that despite his concerns about the unethical nature of this gift, he suggested using the money to support a “public social project”. He told this newspaper that the initial plan was to use the money to acquire 50 high-value laptops for the President to distribute to whomever he chose.

When the project was launched, it was not disclosed that the computers were a gift from the Chinese company.

However, following an article questioning the procurement of the instruments, President Bharrat Jagdeo made the disclosure.

When asked what may have prompted the company’s generosity, Jagdeo said that the government had been asking for such donations. “We basically have been asking around for free computers,” Jagdeo said.

He did not disclose that the company had given the government money to purchase the computers.

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