The letter carried in your edition of September 2 penned by Mr Peter Ramsaroop carries a very simple and beguiling message (‘Opposition blocking key projects without offering alternatives’). It warrants a response for this reason. In addition at least one of the main pillars, the absence of no alternative policies, has not been fully and directly addressed by the APNU. The letter is important because although Mr Ramsaroop has long been recognized as having ‘crossed the floor,’ he has only now emerged to launch a serious and frontal attack on the former house of which he was so prominent a part. Incidentally, he made mention of his membership of the Guyana Tourism Board and I congratulate him on that achievement which does not seem to have helped the government to understand the link between the environment and tourism.
As regards the substance, I should like to start with a reference to the tasteless comment about lack of expertise of those in the APNU. That comment is as rude and untrue as the claim that the APNU supported the projects until influenced by ill-informed commentators from outside the political arena. This was also the implication of the US Ambassador’s comment.
First, attacking persons rather than their arguments is a sure sign of a poor case. I am aware of no APNU spokesperson on the matters to which he makes reference who is less well informed than either the government spokesmen or even Mr Ramsaroop. Many of the very persons he implies are ignorant were held in high esteem by Mr Hoyte even as he was associated with Mr Ramsaroop.
Secondly, I should like to remind readers that prior to the July 24th Georgetown Club Press Conference of Messrs Ram and Gaskin on Amaila, and the circulation of Dr Thomas’s paper on the political economy of the project, the position of the APNU had been outlined on the ‘Nation Watch’ programme by myself and Ronald Bulkan. Prior to that the PPP had been told that we could not agree to the proposal and they were urged to hold the laying of the documents.
In any case even, it is not a crime nor is it undesirable for a party to arrive at a position on the basis of analysis provided by others. In fact, elsewhere the inputs of think tanks and universities are sought and actually become the positions taken by political parties. The PPP should take a leaf from those practices.
The essence of Mr Ramsaroop’s criticism of the APNU concerns their supposed failure to provide alternative policies to those that they criticize. It is a view which has been aired many times, most especially by the diplomatic community. It is ill-informed. The opposition and the APNU in particular, have made many suggestions which have either been ignored or dismissed out of hand by the PPP regime. The reason? The President has argued that the legislature, of which the opposition is part, is not responsible for implementing policies.
If a project is badly conceived or mired in corruption what alternative is there to be pursued? The need would be for the terms to be modified or the corruption eliminated.
It is not worth spending time on Amaila and Mr Ramsaroop’s suggestion in that regard. He has clearly failed to follow the debate.
As regards the airport, let me say again that the parliament was of the view that the runway should be given high priority and then the Demerara harbour, not the airport building at this stage. But in any case before the GoG moves to start construction they should sort out the problems of the people who need to be moved. The claim that these are all squatters with no rights is both inaccurate and unrealistic. We called for the port to be given higher priority because in the medium term there can be no expansion in tourism which could increase the value of tourism at the same rate as we could expand traditional exports. The latter have been constrained by a shallow harbour that needs dredging, too small shiploads, too expensive and time-consuming customs and import procedures which adversely affect shipping costs. I invite Mr Ramsaroop to read the IBRD and USAID reports on these matters. Prices are key to our heavy exports and it is fantastic that we could be so close to our major market and be encountering transport costs far higher than ports thousands of miles away from the US ports primarily because of red tape and pointless procedures.
We have suggested that the PPP deal with this alternative as a priority in public investment. The PSC with whom we spoke also concurred. We have also brought it to the attention of the GoG in the course of several meetings. They have studiously ignored those suggestions. Furthermore, which Guyanese has not suggested to the Minister of Local Government or the cabinet as well as the Mayor that no meaningful initiative on tourism (other than eco-tourism and non-coast tourism) can be developed for as long as the government pursues a policy of punishing the population of the cities which oppose the PPP, by trying to bury them in rubbish.
Can the opposition fix this problem? Is it for them to do so? No, they can only urge the government, and if the GoG is seen to be still trying to do what is wrong, the responsibility of the legislature is to block it. The APNU has presented a motion in parliament on the state of Georgetown and subsequently participated in some of the follow-up clean-up campaign. It cannot put something else in its place. I know that he has not been in parliament but it is surprising that he does not know this.
As a member of the Tourism Board Mr Ramsaroop should be seen to be speaking truth to power. We look forward to that.
This brings me to the second issue. The APNU on its own cannot block a project. Amaila is an exception. It is therefore unfortunate for Mr Ramsaroop to speak as though the APNU alone of all the parties in the Assembly has been unreasonable in blocking government moves. He needs to pay attention to the parliamentary realities. Only ministers can propose expenditures. No law permits the normal MP to lay bills for expenditures.
What alternative is the APNU to provide if we find that proposals are based on falsehoods and will not deliver what they have promised? We cannot implement an alternative proposal. Often the criticism is not intended to push an alternative but to properly implement what is proposed. In other words, where corruption is involved or contracts are not awarded according to accepted best practices or according to the law, the suggestion that an alternative should be proposed is absurd. In such circumstances, Mr Ramsaroop’s comments remove the onus for wrongdoing and seek to place an obligation on the o0pposition which it is neither morally nor legally entitled to bear.
Before closing I should like to say a few words on the Speciality Hospital. There is considerable confusion about this project, That confusion concerns the purpose, the patients, the financing and the employees of the hospital. There is also the usual controversy about the tendering process. I am impressed to see that Mr Ramsaroop knows so much, apparently even more than the Minister! He, for example, never told us that it was meant to serve local or even primarily local patients. I am sure that we were told that like the Jamaican equivalent which was cited when the PPP show-cased Faith Harding’s comments on the matter, it was intended to provide services to health tourists. How many locals could a for-profit hospital afford to treat free of charge? Take the other local specialist entity the Caribbean Health Institute as a guide. It does not have a dozen beds. Naturally, not many Guyanese can afford to pay to use its facilities. A 150 bed facility is intended not for local but for US and other patients who will be funded by medical insurance. Whether it is for locals or foreigners, however, the issue is whether taxpayers should be used to build such facilities when the more basic preventative issues, such as public health and solid waste disposal are not being tackled. Mr Ramsaroop should not try to confuse the public. He is either mischievous or unaware of its purpose.
Although there are many unanswered questions surrounding this facility, there has been little debate over any of the key issues. When asked the Minister revealed no concrete plans regarding training of local doctors to work at the hospital or the specific arrangements for local patients to be treated. Instead of asking, people such as Mr Ramsaroop make unwarranted assumptions. As of now the intention is to have staff that consists of Indian nationals ‒ an extreme version of the Balwant Singh hospital.
In spite of all this the opposition complaint was not about these aspects but about irregularities and contract matters on which Mr Ramsaroop is completely silent. If he had looked at the record of the parliamentary debates he would have seen that they focused on the funding and the award of contracts for the land preparation and construction. First, although there is supposed to be an Indian line-of-credit to fund the facility, APNU members were first alerted to unannounced GoG funding when 2012 supplementary provisions sought $29M for mobilization which when closely checked included payment for studies. We declined and the Assembly was told that the money was not really for studies and mobilization but for purchase of the land. We had a difficulty with this because the land had already been compulsorily acquired by the state. Instead of explaining the matter the Minister embarked of a ploy that tried to find comfort in race. He merely pointed out that the contractor was a certain G Bovell Construction Services , the names of whose employees he listed for the House in an effort to show that they were mostly African Guyanese. In spite of APNU dissatisfaction and opposition he was able to get the money. By the time of the budget debate of 2013 that three month contract had grown to $98M and Bovell had been downgraded to building a fence only! In spite of complaints about GoG breaking its own rules on tendering Serendra Engineering Inc landed a contract for the design, construction and equipping of the hospital announced by the Head of the Presidential Secretariat in 2012. After denying that there was anything irregular in the US$18M award, the government announced reviews of the contract. After the first of these in Sept 2012 it backdated the award to Surendra Engineering to August. In May 2013 the GoG again announced a review. Two weeks ago, without further explanation, the Attorney General and Minister of Health announced that the government is going ahead and that there never was any dispute over the award!
This double speak and rewriting of history is now so common that the public simply turns off when these cases start. But those who seek to take up the government’s’ fire rage’ would be well advised to check their facts before accusing others. We deserve better from those who claim to offer informed commentary.
I quote below without comment an extract from the October 12 2012 SN interview of Vice President Naresh Chandra Soral of Fedders Lloyd via telephone from India,
“They [the Government of Guyana] acknowledge the receipt of protest letter on 6th of September but send the reply dated 4th September? On 15th September Transparency Institute welcome the review decision but today your Government says they have already signed the contract?” he queried… “It seems to us that Surendra Engineering is favoured by the Guyana Government and that the Guyana Government wants nothing to do with ethics, truth, performance, record capability or any sense of justice.”
In closing, I will take the writer up on the proposal to have opposition MPs vote without reference to a party position as soon as the recall legislation is repealed and the PPP does the same. Apparently he believes that only PPP MPs are discerning or intelligent enough to ensure that their party is doing the right thing. He has obviously not read either Mr Chandisingh or Ramkarran’s experiences with dissent in the PPP.
In the face of this behaviour our demand has been and will continue to be the establishment of the Public Procurement Commission, transparent procedures and an end to illegal procedures and corruption in the award of contracts. What other alternative policy is Mr Ramsaroop calling on APNU to provide?
Carl B Greenidge