In a surprise move, Local Government and Regional Development Minister, Ganga Persaud yesterday tendered his resignation, citing personal issues and other responsibilities as the reasons.
Persaud, whose resignation is to take effect as of January 31st, would become the first member to exit the Cabinet of President Donald Ramotar.
“My resignation as Minister of Local Government and Regional Development is based on personal issues presently engaging my attention as well as some additional responsibilities to which I am committed,” he said in a press statement announcing the decision yesterday afternoon. His emailed announcement seemed to take MPs from both sides of the House by surprise just as the parliamentary session was getting underway.
He also expressed his pleasure to have served as a member of the Cabinet and signalled his continued support for the PPP/C administration.
“I am extremely grateful to His Excellency, Mr. Donald Ramotar for the confidence he placed in me and I wish to declare my fullest support to him and his Government,” he noted.
“I wish to reiterate my full confidence in His Excellency, Mr. Donald Ramotar’s ability to lead our country to greater heights and bring more opportunities for success to all Guyana. His Excellency’s leadership styles are admired by many and I am always amazed at the ease with which he deals with issues, particularly delicate and sensitive issues,” he also said.
Observers say that Persaud’s departure at this juncture is all the more surprising as it had been clear that he was placed in that position to reverse the government’s decline of fortunes at the local government level. In the aftermath of the PPP/C’s loss of a majority at the 2011 elections, local government was seen as a key area for the ruling party to recapture. Observers note that Persaud set about upturning a series of Neighbourhood Democratic Councils, re-positioning overseers and inserting regional executive officers to the ire of the opposition. Persaud and his ministry also embarked on an aggressive campaign to court the hinterland with frequent handouts of equipment and supplies to Amerindian communities. With local government elections expected this year, his exit would be seen as setting back the ministry and its plans.
The PPP, for which Persaud is a Central Committee member and a Member of Parliament, had not offered an official response to his resignation up to press time. In addition, the reactions of both government and opposition members in the National Assembly yesterday indicated that the move came as a surprise to many despite recent controversies involving his ministry. It is yet unclear whether Persaud will remain as a MP for the PPP/C.
Persaud, in his statement, reiterated his commitment to working with the PPP in enhancing its chances at the next general and regional elections so as to reclaim the majority in the National Assembly. “This is so important for Guyana’s continued Growth and Development since no other political party can assure our country’s development other than the PPP,” he said.
Efforts to contact the minister following the release proved futile.
Persaud, who only recently outlined the ministry’s plans for this year, is the government’s point person on local government elections and has already commenced training of local government personnel in preparation for the polls, which he said could materialise by the third quarter of this year.
Prior to serving as Local Government Minister, Persaud spent years functioning in varying capacities in Guyana’s bureaucracy, during which he amassed a wealth of experience in the administration of state institutions. Since joining the public service, he has held the positions of Chairman of the Public Service Commission; Permanent Secretary of the Local Government Ministry; Permanent Secretary of the Education Ministry; Permanent Secretary of the Legal Services Ministry; and Deputy Chief Elections Officer, among others.
He was eventually appointed to the ministerial post following the November 28, 2011, elections, and replaced Norman Whittaker at the helm. Whittaker currently serves as the Minister within the Ministry. Reflecting on his roughly two-year tenure as minister, Persaud noted that the Local Government Ministry, under his tenure, was able to strengthen the Local Government Department, centrally and regionally; establish a Local Government Department to provide support to the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils (NDCs) and Municipalities; enhance the ministry’s relationship with communities across Guyana through constant outreach programmes to villages; and improve the ministry’s communication network by moving in the direction of ICT. He described these as significant achievements.
Noticeably missing from the minister’s statement, however, was any mention of the controversies he and the ministry have been embroiled in during his tenure.
He was criticised heavily for his decision to install Carol Sooba as the Georgetown municipality’s acting Town Clerk in 2012, and the criticism increased significantly last December after he confirmed her to the position despite her being the least qualified of all those who applied.
Persaud has since been taken to court by Royston King, Public Relations Officer of the Georgetown City Council, in an attempt to get him to justify this appointment of Sooba before the courts. King, who was one of the four applicants for the Town Clerk post, says that Sooba’s appointment was unconstitutional. Last week, Chief Justice Ian Chang rejected applications by Persaud’s lawyers for a further two weeks to justify his appointment of Sooba. Instead, Persaud’s defence team was given seven days. The decision was made on the 16th and so the minister had up to yesterday to give his answer.
The Local Government Ministry and Persaud also faced scrutiny recently after it was unearthed that it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with an unproven firm, Natural Globe Guyana Inc., for the construction of a US$30 million recycling plant.
The firm, beyond building a prototype recycling plant, has no history and/or experience in the development of such facilities. The fact that the ministry, and not the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board, handled the tendering of the project awarded to the company, did not help the ministry’s case and further investigations into the company revealed that the name Natural Globe Inc. was owned by another Canadian company.
Persaud later said that the revelations made by the media brought some serious issues concerning the company to light, and a decision was later taken to dissolve the MoU.
This week, Persaud found himself in the spotlight once more, this time over the state of the recently re-constructed Moruca Bridge. $43 million was expected to construct the bridge and to carry out revetment works along the road leading to the bridge. Residents of the area are not at all happy with the results of the work though, and the AFC, whose representatives recently visited the area, said both works should be condemned.
In 2001, during his tenure as Permanent Secretary of the Legal Affairs Ministry, he was embroiled in a controversy over a contract signed for the provision of updated volumes of the country’s laws. A contract was signed with a New York-based company, New Global Consults Inc., for the provision of 300 ten-volume sets of the Laws of Guyana; for them to be provided on 300 compact discs; and for a website to be established upon which the laws would be posted.
Stabroek News eventually found out that the contract, which was signed on March 17th 2001 but was not made public until May, was sole-sourced, as operators in the local information technology sector complained that they had not been invited to bid. It was also discovered that the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) was supposed to fund the contract but did not since the government did not seek its approval to sole-source the contract.
Persaud was eventually flayed by government for breaching financial regulations and not obtaining the necessary approval from the IDB. As punishment, he was surcharged $500,000.
In addition to his decades of service in various state bodies, Persaud holds a Master’s Degree in Management, a Bachelor’s in Education Management, a Diploma in Agriculture, and a Class 1 Grade 1 Trained Teacher’s Certificate, according to a ministry bio.