There is evidence that several government agencies including NICIL misspent monies and should the forensic audits currently being conducted show any evidence of criminality, the matter would be handed to the police, President David Granger has said.
Recently the government announced that forensic audits would be conducted at agencies such as the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC). NICIL – the government’s holding company – has been embroiled in several controversies under the PPP/C administration over its holding and use of monies.
“Monies had been used for PPP political work; particularly during the campaign, state funds had been used to pay for political advertisement. There is evidence that in some instances, funds were misappropriated by members of those departments or units,” the president told Stabroek News in an interview last week.
He said that the latter is a criminal matter and that is why his administration has called for audits. The president said that when his administration took office, they discovered that there was simply not enough money and that even some of the limited funds had been misused. “So we had to conduct investigations to find out where the money is,” the Head of State said emphasising that where evidence of wrongdoing or criminality emerges, this would be turned over to the police.
It is the government’s intention to have all of the monies from the state agencies and from the Lotto Fund now placed in the Consolidated Fund, a move it had been agitating for while in opposition.
Asked specifically about the report on financial irregularities at the state broadcaster, the National Communications Network (NCN), which was handed over to his predecessor, the president said that all reports including that by the Disciplined Forces Commission would be acted upon. However, he noted that he could not, at that point, state that all of the recommendations of the reports would be acted upon.
As to whether the report would be handed over to the police, the president said that if there is evidence of criminality, this would be done. He added that he has not read the report but “if the report points to criminality, it would be handed over to the police to conclude investigation and to prosecute persons alleged to have committed crimes.”
Would he be reading it soon? “I expect yes,” he responded. While in opposition, both APNU and the AFC had called upon the PPP/C government to act on it. The contents of the report were also widely reported in the media.
When approached on the issue, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo had taken a similar stance saying that he had not seen the report and he was not sure what action would have been taken. While in opposition, Nagamootoo had said that the findings were enough to merit prosecution.
Former NCN Programme Manager Martin Goolsarran and NCN’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mohammed ‘Fuzzy’ Sattaur were implicated in the irregularities.
Meanwhile, President Granger reiterated that a Commission of Inquiry (COI) would be held into the sugar industry from which the new administration was faced with a $16B bailout bill, days after it came into power. The matter was discussed at Cabinet last week and this week, a decision would be made on the way forward. Up to last week, it had not yet been established who would head that inquiry.
He said that the botched Skeldon factory would be part of the inquiry and the makers of the equipment have been approached to rectify some of the problems. The contractor for the project was Chinese company CNTIC.
“It would be thorough because the country depends on a viable industry, thousands of workers and their families depend on a viable industry and we do not have any interest in seeing that historical industry in jeopardy. Right now it is in jeopardy because of bad management and we would like to put it on a stable footing,” the president asserted.
Meantime, asked about some of the key promises the coalition had promised to fulfill in its first 100 days into office such as hikes in wages and salaries for public servants and in pensions and lowering of the Berbice River Bridge toll, the president said the government has every intention of fulfilling its pledges.
He said that the government is appointing a commission before July 1st to look into or examine the salaries and conditions of service of public servants. The commission would determine the increase to be given. Finance Minister Winston Jordan had told Stabroek News during an interview that the government was looking to increase public servants’ salaries by 10%.
On the promise of lowering the Berbice bridge toll the president said that it is “under investigation” since the question of ownership comes into play and, as such, lowering the toll cannot be done “arbitrary or unilaterally but it would be reduced, that is one of our priorities.”
“The negotiations are taking place now, between the government and the owners,” Granger said and when asked if the government has plans to purchase shares in the bridge, he responded in the negative.
Meantime, the president said, the budget should be presented to the National Assembly by September and in the interim, the government would continue to spend one twelfth of the allocation per month based on the 2014 estimates.
As to whether local government elections would be held by the end of this year, Granger said that he had not received such information from the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) which is the final arbiter.
“We would like to have it at early as possible but my information is that the Guyana Elections Commission has been asked to state when it would be ready to hold local government elections and as soon as that happens, we will have local government elections,” he pledged.
While in opposition, Granger would have agitated for the holding of the elections and would have picketed his predecessor’s office to call for the elections and he said it is his desire to have it convened this year.
In a recent interview with Stabroek News, outgoing Canadian High Commissioner Nicole Giles had called on the new government to hold the long overdue local government elections by the end of the year. The PPP has since signalled its intention to boycott the polls should GECOM’s Chairman Dr Steve Surujbally remain at the helm of the electoral body.
Georgetown and other parts of the country continues to flood whenever there is heavy rain and the president acknowledged that to fix this problem would require a costly overhaul of the drainage infrastructure. Asked where this money would be sourced from, he said that the administration is examining ways and means to increase the collections of revenue and the reduction of tax evasion.
“Those are the means that we have at our disposal,” the president said adding that if the taxes were collected more efficiently, then there would have been more money to look after things like the drainage infrastructure.
There will also be no inquiry into convicted drug kingpin Roger Khan’s operations in Guyana but rather into the deaths of the many persons who were killed during that period, Granger said.
When the topic was broached, the president pointed out that he had called for an inquiry while in opposition mainly to determine the circumstances under which a number of persons had been killed. “We will be investigating the circumstances under (which) people were killed and of course, we would be investigating persons (who) are alleged to be involved in narcotics trafficking,” the president said.