Luncheon accuses Stabroek News of ‘reckless hostility’ to laptop project

Following recent articles questioning the propriety of Huawei’s US$50,000 “thank you gift” to the government, Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon yesterday accused this newspaper of displaying “reckless hostility” to the One Laptop Per Family (OLPF) project.

“The denigration of this initiative of the [OLPF] project by Stabroek News and others is suggestive of reckless hostility,” Luncheon said during his press briefing at Office of the President. Luncheon said that “in its most recent diatribe, Stabroek News seeks to revisit matters fully ventilated and pronounced on by the administration in an uncharitable way.”

Stabroek News recently interviewed several knowledgeable persons who questioned the appropriateness of Huawei giving the government a “thank you gift” when the company had been awarded a $14M government contract for the laying of fibre optic cables here. The gift was then used to purchase 142 computers for the OLPF.

Following the publication of this article, the local branch of Transparency International yesterday called on the Auditor General to investigate whether the government’s use the 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.”

Speaking about Huawei yesterday, Luncheon said that the company was “a top ranking” international firm in its field and he said its engagement with the government dates back to even before the OLPF was conceived.  He said that the engagement has been particularly along the lines of government’s desire to push the IT sector and to make bandwidth more accessible to Guyanese.  He said that the “gift” from the Chinese company had allowed the government to provide computers to Guyanese living in all three counties.

Questioned as to how long Huawei has been engaging the government, Luncheon said that it most likely pre-dated 2009. He said that while he had met representatives of the company in 2009 in relation to the design of more bandwidth, the company has had engagements with the National Frequency Management Unit (NFMU) and telecommunications sector.

According to Luncheon, “the administration feels that Stabroek News’ attempt to discredit the initiative and to generate doubt about its motive and objectives will not deter Guyanese nor the administration from supporting the successful implementation of the initiative.” Further, he said that “it has exposed [Stabroek News] to the criticism for their entrenched and increasingly noticeable hostility to this PPP/C administration and criticism for their insensitivity to class interests.”

Under the OLPF, the government plans to distribute 90,000 computers to poor families over the next three years. Luncheon said yesterday that the government hopes to acquire 50,000 computers this year. He said that the project is expected to be rolled out by June/July o this year.

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