Attorney Nigel Hughes yesterday offered to step down as AFC Chairman over his link to the contentious Amaila Falls Hydroelectric project but the party refused to accept his resignation, saying it had “full confidence” in him.
Hughes announced that he had offered his resignation from the chairmanship in wake of a Kaieteur News report highlighting the fact that he was Company Secretary of the Amaila Falls Hydropower Inc, the company set up to pilot the project. His wife, AFC MP Cathy Hughes is also the public relations consultant for the project’s developer, Sithe Global.
Like the main opposition APNU, the AFC has voiced serious concerns about the project although it has signalled that it is leaning towards supporting the two legislative instruments crucial to advancing the project. With the AFC’s support, the government would be able to pass legislation critical to the due diligence process even if it fails to gain the support of APNU.
Hughes, who was appointed the Company Secretary for the company in 2009—two years before he joined the party and three years before he was elected its Chairman—yesterday characterised the timing of the release of the information on his tie to the company as being part of “a clear attempt to tarnish” the name of the party and its positions on the Amaila project. (This is despite the fact that he said the information was a matter of public record since 2009.)
“The provision of this public information by a prominent chartered accountant to the Kaieteur News at this time could only have been for the purpose of explicitly or implied suggesting that I have been advancing the cause of my clients in the deliberations by the AFC on the Amaila issue. I completely without reservation reject this contention,” he said in a statement announcing the offer of his resignation.
“I have at all times acted professionally and disclosed to the party my relationship with the client as the client has been aware of my position in the party,” he added.
Hughes, who said he welcomed and supported the publication of his tie to the company as he did any other matter pertinent to the issues surrounding the Amaila Falls debate, noted that when the project became a matter of public interest, he immediately disclosed his interest to the AFC leadership and asked to be recused from participating in its deliberations on the subject.
Last evening, however, the party released a statement informing that it would not accept Hughes’ resignation.
“On behalf of the Management Committee of the Party, [General Secretary of the AFC David Patterson] advised Mr. Hughes that his resignation was not accepted and that the Party continues to repose full and complete confidence in him both as member and Chairman,” the party statement said.
The party also noted that Hughes was not a member of the AFC in April 2009 when he commenced professional engagement with Amaila Falls Hydro Inc./Sithe Global. Further, it said he officially joined the party in July 2011 and was elected Chairman on August 4 2012. “Therefore the matters of professional engagement with AFHI predated, by some time, Mr. Hughes’ membership to the Party and further his election to the office of Chairman,” it pointed out.
The AFC corroborated Hughes’ account that he declared his professional association with Sithe Global at the commencement of the Amaila Fall Hydro Power Project coming into national focus and requested of the party that he be recused from the decision making process at every stage, which was agreed.
“The party wishes to assure its members and supporters both here in Guyana and overseas and all Guyanese that it employed best practice at all times with regard to the formulation of decisions and the position of the party with regard to AFHI and indeed the Party thanks Mr. Hughes for his timely and forthright declaration of interest. This allowed the Party to act responsibly and judiciously to avoid any potential conflicts,” the AFC said.
It reiterated that it continues to repose every confidence in Hughes in executing the duties of Chairman of the party, “a role in which he has acted with the utmost professionalism.” It said that the AFC views as unfortunate, but unsurprising efforts “designed to malign its image, particularly at such a sensitive time.”
“The party wishes to commend Mr. Hughes for placing the interest of the Party and the people of Guyana above his own interests in taking what is a selfless, magnanimous and a most difficult decision to offer his resignation. Mr. Hughes’s willingness to act in the public interest and to the detriment of his own political career speaks to his character and his offer of resignation, in the eyes of the Party and indeed of all Guyanese only enhances his stature and reputation as a leader of high principle and morality,” it added.
The AFC also said it remained “steadfastly supportive” of hydro power projects or any other alternative energy source options with the express condition being that the benefits redound to the Guyanese people and the country. “The Party’s position in this regard remains unchanged and the Party recommits to representing the best interest of Guyanese,” it said.
It also noted that its previously stated position with regard to awaiting the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) report of its due diligence and the level of debt ceiling proposed by the motion with regard to its sustainability remains the same. “The Party is favourably considering its support for the Hydro Amendments (the Environmental Bill) if re-tabled,” it added.
‘A conflict where there is none’
In a comment to Stabroek News, Cathy Hughes said that people are deliberately not making the distinction between her private life and her professional right to practice her profession. “I am in the area of media and public relations. My company provides a range of services. I have been working as a PR consultant for Sithe Global since 2010,” Hughes said. “People have been trying to create a conflict where there is none. Sithe Global has been my client long before I got into Parliament,” she said.
Pointing out that she has never tried to conceal the fact that she functioned as Sithe’s PR consultant, Hughes said that many times she has coordinated press conferences, consultations and has had her name and company information appended to press releases concerning the Amaila project. “The views that my party may hold are totally different from my own professional work,” she stated.
Meanwhile, developer Sithe Global’s President Brian Kubeck also commented on the furore surrounding the services of both Hugheses to the project, calling it yet another attempt to shift the focus away from the benefits of the project.
“Amaila Falls Hydro Inc. (AFHI) would like to reiterate the message that we can only proceed with the project if there is consensus amongst the PPP, APNU and AFC, communicated via Parliament, that they unanimously support of the project,” Kubeck said in a statement to the press yesterday.
“Today, the dwindling detractors attempted to throw out the latest in a series of distractions aimed at obstructing a project that will have lasting positive benefits for Guyana. This appears to be a deliberate and desperate attempt to shift the debate away from the Project merits (especially its significant electricity cost savings for consumers that start at 40% and increase to 91% over the life of the project), which have held up under intense scrutiny,” Kubeck said.
Kubeck reiterated that the Hugheses’ ties to AFHI are well known and have been in the public domain for years. “The company’s work with these consultants has been in accordance with all local and international laws and no one has ever exercised any influence for the benefit of AFHI within AFC. Stories like this are an unfortunate distraction from a true debate about the Amaila Hydro Project,” he further said.