Opposition wants full disclosure on billion-dollar contractors

The parliamentary opposition is seeking full disclosure of all local contractors who have been awarded billion-dollar government contracts, amid concerns that the administration’s bid to retain a role in the granting of awards is motivated by a desire to ensure its friends are beneficiaries.

AFC Chairman Nigel Hughes told reporters on Thursday that the call for the identification of contractors who have received contracts valued at $1B and above comes in wake of former Speaker Ralph Ramkarran’s recent accusations that the PPP-led administration has been compromised by its link to three groups who finance the party’s leadership, which in turn serves their interests.

“In light of Mr. Ramkarran’s disclosure, the AFC calls for the immediate release of all contractors and businessmen who have been beneficiaries of government contracts for sums in excess of one billion Guyana dollars and the publication of the circumstances in which they were awarded these contracts,” Hughes said.

Nigel Hughes
Nigel Hughes

In his weekly Conversation Tree column, Ramkarran, who resigned from the PPP after 50 years over his concerns about corruption, wrote that the PPP government is reluctant to do anything about corruption because of these interests, which he identified as a collection of wealthy and influential businessmen who have high political connections; contractors for state projects; and bureaucrats in the public sector.

Ramkarran admitted that it is not known what percentage of roads, bridges, buildings and other infrastructure works are badly done, but noted that the complaints are plentiful. “And it is not merely that the contractors are dishonest. They tell you openly that if they have to bribe so many officials, then there is not enough to spend on the works to complete them in accordance with the contracts and to make a profit for themselves at the same time. Of course, they willingly collaborate with this state of affairs. This situation is a direct result of the failure of the PPP to build on the work of (the later former president) Cheddi Jagan and to deal with corruption. Many of these contractors, businessmen and suppliers of goods and services have close links with the PPP, including members of the leadership,” he wrote.

The PPP has not formally responded to Ramkarran.

The AFC believes that Ramkarran’s assertions reveal the reason why government wants to maintain a role in the public procurement process, in the face of calls for the setting up of the long-delayed Public Procurement Commission (PPC).

The Procurement Act envisages the gradual phasing out of Cabinet’s role in the procurement process after the establishment of the PPC. Government has signaled that it is willing to work with opposition parties to move forward on the establishment of the PPC, if Cabinet is allowed to retain its supervision over the award of contracts. In explaining the administration’s position, Adviser to the President on Governance Gail Teixeira has said that no responsible government would want to give up its ability to oversee the spending of the money which it is making available for the development of its country.

David Granger
David Granger

The opposition political parties, however, are adamant that once the PPC is activated, Cabinet’s involvement must cease.  “The government’s position… now has to be looked in the light of what in what Mr. Ramkarran had said… the government by saying that they want a ‘no objection’ clause is, in effect, saying that they want to continue to maintain the power to send the contracts to these people,” Hughes said. “That is the importance of Mr. Ramkarran’s revelation … what it now does is unmasks the government’s position. That is, ‘Look, we are running the country for these couple people.’ That is what it means,” he added.

Hughes said that since the PPP/C had previously described Ramkarran as the embodiment of impartiality, his words must be taken seriously as his revelations show that Guyana is in a national crisis. “The 90 plus percent of this population is excluded from participating in the economic benefits of the country and that is unacceptable and that is why it is a matter of urgent national importance to be addressed immediately…. we are saying it is now a national crisis,” he said.

Meanwhile, APNU leader David Granger said the main opposition coalition supports the call for full disclosure and that it believes that there should be closer examination at government’s motive for remaining adamant in having a role in procurement process in light of Ramkarran’s assertions.  Speaking with Stabroek News, Granger said APNU supported the AFC’s call. “We are of the view that government’s resistance to providing names and for removing the cabinet’s control over procurement is something to look at. We have resisted their views and we feel that in order to achieve transparency, the government should surrender that kind of control,” he explained.

“Right now, under governmental control there is obviously rampant corruption. The awarding of contracts, the procuring of material…this is what we are fighting against,” he said, while also government’s failure to identify nominees so that the PPC can be set up. “…It is holding back this eradication of this corruption that we are talking about,” he noted.

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