Capacity, contracts and secrecy

Dear Editor,

When a United Nations report found last year that African Guyanese faced discrimination in the award of government contracts, the government rejected the report. Speaking as General Secretary of the PPP Mr Donald Ramotar. now President of Guyana (without a majority of the elected house or of the popular vote) made an argument. He said the situation described by the UN was not due to discrimination. He claimed that African Guyanese contractors lacked capacity. This also amounted to saying that the favoured contractors had capacity.  Among them, at the head of them stood the well-equipped BK International.

Everything has a history. Mr Tiwarie’s rise to prominence from the status of a road hauler does him some credit, but it is not  accidental or mainly due to any special merit on his part. He has also had patrons in high places.

I have previously invited readers to Google BK International and look at its performance record showing the contracts awarded to BK Tiwarie from 1993 to 2007.  Contracts awarded after that year have not been posted on the BKI site. Among the contractors with “capacity” in the General Secretary’s mind therefore must rank, and rank very high, BK International, owned by Mr BK Tiwarie. I had complained to the Ombudsman against a Minister early after the PPP’s ‘return‘ in 1992, when ownership of a car passed from the Tiwarie household to that of the Minister, Mr Nokta, with whom I had fought closely in the long  reign of the PNC. The Ombudsman used his powers to refuse an investigation or a hearing. An agreement of sale between Mr Tiwarie and a member of the Minister’s household appeared in Kaieteur News. The open appearance of a conflict of interest concerned few in authority. The rest of the story of BKI should be well known. He continued to enjoy the confidence of the ministry and the rest of the executive.

The citizens have been questioning the performance of BKI for many years, especially as the term of office began to wind down. They whispered and wrote about many puzzling actions of the supervising government in relation to this contractor full of so much capacity. I myself raised questions about the official body language when BKI’s resort became the place of meeting for a high level Caricom meeting in Guyana.

On December 17, 2011 the SN published the opinion of the European Union indicating “a certain lack of capacity in managing the large portfolio of the [sea defence] contract.” This is a line of defence of vital interest to all Guyana. Those with the “capacity” can help the public to calculate how much EU and taxpayers’ money has been invested in the sea defences over the last several years and under EU programmes. It is time to blow whistles. After what the EU said, we can draw the conclusion that if the EU, and not the ministry, had to expose the lack of capacity, then the Ministry of Works also lacks capacity to judge the capacity of project execution.

Why? Any one-party system in this country will see itself as being under siege and will develop a culture of secrecy.  It will develop habits of inbreeding, protecting its own against the public interest, hiding information the public should have, lying by silence, and in time such a regime will become nothing but a heap of political garbage.

It will be most unwise for the PPP, the APNU or the AFC to consent to the management of this country and especially the country’s affairs and its development direction, especially the finances, by a single party.

BK Tiwarie is only a very important example of this hidden lack of capacity in those who oversee him and ought to represent the people and respect the interests of the donors.

If the PPP has any interest in satisfying the public‘s concerns, it will support proposals for a multiparty government.  Such a government will help to bring the old cronies under control or get them out of the system. I am not suggesting the BKI can be abolished or wished away. BKI needs competition, technical and other oversight and a removal of the privilege the company has enjoyed for nearly two decades.

It is very likely the Ministry of Works and all its units will benefit from special audits of its capacity, its performance, its compliance and its observance of finance regulations, even the colonial ones.  It is a shame to many of my generation that the way the rulers now conduct affairs makes people like the EU officials believe we are capable of nothing better. I cannot forget the late Bryan Rodway’s testimony. When he showed his professors in Prague a copy of an annual Local Government Depart-ment report, the Professor said, “You come from a developed country.” In fact it was a colony, with a former PPP government and with a native civil service.

The EU itself has been too uncritical in a country where information is tightly hidden. Last May the delegate to Guyana promised not to send election observers to the 2011 general elections and said it was a sign of the EU’s trust, or words to that effect.

I wonder whether the new ambassador, in the spirit of freedom of information, will grant interviews to the media and respond to their questions on the state of the EU’s projects and experience in Guyana. I wonder too whether he will, in confidence if necessary, brief the parliamentary leaders coming out of the trusted 2011 elections on the state of EU-Guyana relations and projects, which cannot be regarded as secret matters.

Yours faithfully,
Eusi Kwayana

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