Minister of State Joseph Harmon yesterday said that the fuel scam discovered at the Guyana Oil Company (GuyOil) where vehicles not affiliated with any government ministry or agency have been accessing fuel involves millions of dollars and he said the Managing Director of the company has to go.
Harmon was asked about the sums involved in the scam that he made public on Wednesday and he said while he couldn’t recall the exact figure it runs into millions.
Hours after Harmon’s disclosure, GuyOil Managing Director Badrie Persaud expressed surprise to Stabroek News about the investigation since he said he had not been approached by the administration about it.
Pointing out that as the Managing Director, Persaud would also have to answer questions on this matter, Harmon said “He has to go, why should I talk to him…,” when asked if Persaud had been contacted on the issue.
“I have already all of the documents from the ministries that they sending, they want the evidence I will give them the evidence,” the minister said.
While Persaud and his Finance Comptroller Rosalyn Franklin both said they were unaware of the investigation, an unsigned statement issued yesterday by the ‘Company Secretary’ of GuyOil said that the investigation is being done with the full co-operation of the management of “GuyOil with the objective to reduce and eliminating such malpractices.”
“As soon as the investigation is completed GuyOil will issue a follow up statement,” the press release said.
Meantime, the opposition PPP/C yesterday challenged Harmon to release the names of the persons who have been accessing fuel illegally and also to release the registration numbers of the 28 Government vehicles he said were transferred to private persons in one day.
“The PPP calls upon Mr. Harmon to publish the information showing the type of each vehicle, the registration number of each vehicle as well as the names of each ministry and agency to which the vehicles are attached.”
“Further, the PPP calls on the Granger de-facto administration to publish the names of the “former government officials who have been filling up their tanks and those of their families,” the party said in a statement.
“So what they go do about it when I present it? I present them about [former Public Service Minister Jennifer] Westford what have they done about it? What did [Clement] Rohee say? `We are talking to her’,” Minister Harmon said yesterday in response to the party’s call.
The issue as it relates to Westford has to do with the attempt to transfer vehicles into her name and that of her spouse and two other persons and a police investigation has since been launched with two former employee of the then Ministry of Public Service being taken off the job. All of the vehicles involved have since been returned to the government.
On Wednesday, Harmon had said that the matter “falls into a pattern of serious abuse by the previous administration.” He had also said that come next week he would be releasing the names of individuals who abused their positions to have contracts awarded to them personally in the last months of the previous administration.
“So the question about those vehicles and the fuel. Yes we are investigating it and I do have in my possession … government personnel in the previous administration who were abusing that facility… We have asked GuyOil to present us with all of these accounts and these statements,” Harmon said, adding that “those persons who were drawing fuel and not paying for it – they have to pay for it.”
Speaking to Stabroek News on Wednesday, GuyOil’s Comptroller Franklin had revealed that the National Sports Commission (NSC) recently wrote to the company in this regard, but when an investigation was done it was found that the purchasing orders originating from the agency had the required signature.
Sources in that agency had revealed on Wednesday that as many as 11 vehicles received huge amounts of fuel and it is now saddled with the bill. According to one source, the commission only has four vehicles and on a daily basis “only about one and a half is used.” Stabroek News was told that the “spike” in the fuel bill for the commission occurred during the recent election period and it is believed that vehicles that were being used for campaign purposes were being fuelled up on the commission’s tab.
“While it may have been happening before, the spike definitely happened during the election period and there was a thick wad of bills for fuel,” one source had said, adding that a “large amount of money” is involved.
It is believed that it is the NSC’s flagging of the bills that would have resulted in the new administration examining the process under which vehicles affiliated with the state receive fuel and discovering that vehicles not owned by the government were benefiting from the system.
And Harmon yesterday said that he would soon be revealing another scam that ensnares a former government minister and senior PPP/C official which saw the official being awarded contracts under the then Ministries of Culture, Youth & Sport and Labour.
He said that he has “more with [name of the former government minister] and some of the others”. This involves some contracts and consultancies awarded to that individual particularly in the last month before elections.
Approached on the issue, Minister of Education Dr Rupert Roopnaraine under who the departments of culture and sport now fall confirmed that an ongoing audit is discovering what appears to be irregularities but he declined to give further details.
“I understand that there is currently an audit that is taking place, I have indications that the audit may be unearthing some irregularities…” Roopnaraine said yesterday.
Further pressed, he said he does not have a report on the audit as yet and unless he has the report he would not want to make statements that are not evidence-based.
And Minister of Social Security Volda Lawrence when questioned told Stabroek News that the former minister’s request for payment in millions of dollars for a contract he allegedly executed under the co-op department of the then Labour Ministry is what triggered an ongoing investigation.
“I am a little shocked because the co-op department is in a mess…so let us see perhaps if his work was to outline a procedure which they can use to enhance and rejuvenate the department,” she said, while adding they are awaiting an answer from the individual. She has written and requested a report on the work that he did.