Five persons have been identified as having fraudulently accessed fuel from the Guyana Oil Company (GuyOil) through an arrangement set up by the former administration and Minister of State Joseph Harmon said they would be asked to pay for the fuel even as investigations continue into the racket which has ensnared three government ministries.
“I would want to give those persons a first opportunity to pay for this fuel because we are talking about recovering state assets and we must pay for it. We would give that opportunity and then if not I would hand the file over to the police,” Harmon said yesterday when asked for an update on the investigation he announced last week.
He had called it a “serious abuse” where vehicles not affiliated with any government ministry or agency have been accessing fuel at GuyOil without paying.
Speaking to reporters yesterday after his weekly post-cabinet press conference, Harmon said the ministry had registration numbers and the names of persons who took fuel from the company as well as the cash amount attached.
According to Harmon, it is roughly about $200,000 per vehicle as there were vehicles that were drawing 20 gallons a day “drawing gasoline in containers and all of these things.
“I can say to you right now definitively that there are at least five vehicles and the names of individuals who were not employed by one particular ministry.”
Meantime, the minister said the oil company has given full support to the investigation and has provided information on “several things that have been happening there beyond these people drawing fuel.” The company has also given information on “conflict of interest situations” occurring in the company.
Hours after Harmon’s disclosure last week, GuyOil Managing Director Badrie Persaud, who was a candidate on the PPP/C electoral list, expressed surprise to Stabroek News as regards the investigation since he said he had not been approached by the administration about it.
When this was put to him, the minister said Persaud would also have to answer questions on this matter adding, “He has to go, why should I talk to him?
“I have already all of the documents from the ministries…, they want the evidence I will give them the evidence.”
Yesterday, the minister said investigations have begun into three particular ministries; the Ministry of Home Affairs (now Public Security), Ministry of Natural Resources (now a department of the Ministry of the Presidency) and the Ministry of Tourism. Additionally, he said, he has instructed all the permanent secretaries that as accounting officers they are responsible and asked that they provide assistance to the investigation.
“So far I have been advised that apart from Guyoil there are other private gas stations where government vehicles or persons who are working in the government actually drew petrol… so I have some of that information and that we are also pursuing as well,” the minister said.
Last week the oil company had said to this newspaper through its Finance Comptroller Rosalyn Franklin that the National Sports Commission (NSC) had written to the company saying that vehicles billed by the company did not belong to the commission. However, 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 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.
Meanwhile, Harmon said former government minister Ganga Persaud would have to provide reports on his work before he can be paid for the contracts he was awarded by the previous administration.
Last week the minister had said investigations had been launched into Persaud being awarded contracts by the Ministries of Labour and Culture, Youth and Sport.
For his part Persaud has since issued a statement as it relates to the contract he was awarded by the Ministry of Labour, saying that there was no irregularity surrounding it and it had ended on May 31.
Harmon said yesterday that it appeared the former minister was answering him in the newspaper before receiving his letter which has since been sent, requesting information on the “contracts which seem to have been awarded to him in such generous terms.”
He said there were two contracts; one with the then Ministry of Culture, Youth & Sports and one with the Ministry of Labour, with the latter being for $900,000 and the former for $1.8 million.
“This is the quality of madness that took place under the PPP where funds that belonged to the state can be just easily be given away like that without anyone basically having to give you an account as to how these funds were spent,” Harmon said in reference to Persaud saying that he was not required to give a report for the Ministry of Labour’s contract.
He insisted that before Persaud is paid he has to show what work he conducted.
However, Persaud had said in his statement that the ministry would be unable to locate a report from him and neither can one be requested, as the contract did not stipulate such.
According to Persaud, he was contracted by the ministry to:
(a) Provide advisory services to the Cooperatives Division of the Ministry of Labour on handling the winding up process of defunct cooperative societies.
(b) Provide advisory services to the Cooperatives Division of the Ministry of Labour on the handling of management issues encountered by cooperative societies in difficult circumstances and its impact on the functioning of the Cooperatives Division.
(c) Enumerate and propose ways to address matters related to the public awareness of the implementation of the International Labour Organisation resolution to which Guyana has acceded.
(d) To coordinate with other ministries and agencies…to gather information to fulfil the ministry’s obligations to report to the International Labour Organisation on ratified conventions.
He said that he fulfilled the requirements and requested payment since the contract came to an end on May 31 and he did not express an interest to renew it.
“I provided the services for which I was contracted and this can be verified by the Chief Cooperatives Officer. I had almost weekly face-to-face meetings with her and another senior staff in the Division. We collectively made several decisions which were implemented over the period,” Persaud had said.