Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud said on Saturday he had no comment to make on the latest revelations that several relatives of his are linked to a broadcasting company. one of several which received radio licences and frequencies under a shroud of secrecy.
And Alliance For Change Leader Khemraj Ramjattan believes the licences should all be revoked and the process started anew, in a transparent manner and including public hearings.
Ramjattan in a televised interview some days ago revealed that the directors of Telecor, one of the companies controversially allocated radio frequencies last year, are close relatives of Minister Persaud. One of the directors is Persaud’s wife Kamini Persaud and the other is Persaud’s sister Ruth Baljit.
While relatives of government officials are not usually barred from applying for consideration in relation to state assets or contracts, observers say that these processes have to be transparent and clearly above board. Critics argue this process failed the test on several grounds: former President Bharrat Jagdeo’s allocations just prior to demitting office in November 2011 were never explained and the process proceeded in contravention of a promise Jagdeo himself had made not to award licences and frequencies until a new broadcast authority was in place.
“It is not because Robert Persaud has relatives who comprise Telecor alone, you have PPP-ites who have been given through New Guyana Company Ltd five others and a friend and favourite of the former President and this Government has another five,” said Ramjattan.
He said that the allocations have been made on criteria that the Opposition is unaware of. He said that it also breached the agreement signed between former President Desmond Hoyte and then President Bharrat Jagdeo that all licensing will be done after the Broadcast Authority comes into being and is operating.
That agreement had stated that the Broadcast Act would have the criteria for the granting of licences. “It was not keeping the binding obligations that you made and so what flowed was a form of trickery in the grant of all these radio licences,” Ramjattan said.
“What (Head of the Presidential Secretariat) Dr Roger Luncheon publicly stated that it was about keeping a commitment to break the monopoly is a rationale that has been abused, a rationale that is mischievous and deceptive, to grant the licence to these people who are very close to the party in power,” he said.
Asked what the corrective step should be, Ramjattan said, “Revoke all of them. Then the Broadcast Authority will set up its criteria if it has not done so already and do the re-grant. And if all the relatives of Robert Persaud are entitled then so be it, on grounds of a meritocracy.” He said that he would prefer that there be provisions for hearings prior to the grant of the licences “because the spectrum is of course a limited spectrum and so you will have to give based on criteria that are objective and the objectivity can be further enhanced by hearings.”
Ramjattan conjectured that an attempt to revoke the licences might trigger the Attorney General arguing that the licencees have proprietary interests and therefore the licences cannot be revoked once granted and could challenge the revocation in court. “But it is not part of good governance…it is not part of fairness, it is not part of reasonableness to have given out the licences,” he said. He pointed out that while some close associates of the Government received licences, others who are considered reputable in the broadcast arena were not granted. He pointed out two examples in Enrico Woolford and Vic Insanally.
“What is coming through most clearly is the fact that these are all people who have an independent voice and so they were not considered…independence is not a criteria it would appear and so it was an exercise of control freakism that compelled the former President to do what he did just before he was coming off,” said Ramjattan.
He wrote off as tokenism the fact that a few persons who were not considered close to the Government or the former President received licences. “It still is an atrocity that ought to be renounced,” he said.
“They had said they would do it according to proper objective criteria…all have been flung through the window,” he said.