Under pressure following a damning audit report that recommended criminal charges and disciplinary action for breaching laws, head of government’s holding company NICIL, Winston Brassington yesterday defended his leadership of the entity saying he broke no laws and the report is not backed up with evidence.
“As far as I know, and in good faith, I have not broken any laws and if Mr [Anand] Goolsarran is suggesting it, then I believe I have a clear defence on why what we did was properly done and we should not be held responsible and the only way this matter can be determined is if this matter goes to court and be heard and no one has ever challenged us,” Brassington told reporters at a press conference at the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL) head office in Kingston yesterday.
Former Auditor-General (AG) Goolsarran had done the forensic audit into NICIL which was commissioned by the APNU+AFC government. Among other things, he had recommended criminal and/or disciplinary action against all those responsible for the interception of state revenues totalling $26.858 billion in violation of the constitution.
Yesterday, Brassington defended his leadership of NICIL which has been embroiled in a number of controversies over the years.
“I am confident in my integrity. I have operated for 20 years in government… We have done a lot of projects, everything that we do has been guided by decisions and paperwork that goes through boards, that goes through Cabinet, even Parliament,” he said.
He charged that the audit report did not take into account NICIL’s comments and sought to dismiss the findings.
The report had included some comments from NICIL.
Brassington declared that Goolsarran’s comments were not backed up by evidence.
“A lot of what is being said by Mr Goolsarran are opinions of a legal nature which are not backed up by evidence. On the other hand, we have many years of practice where these things have been happening. We have legal opinions that state that we are within our jurisdiction to conduct these transactions, we have clean audit reports for many years which indicated that NICIL’s accounts were prepared in accordance with proper accounting standards, audited and we have clean opinions,” he declared.
“If someone is saying we did something wrong are they saying the entire government who made the decision? Cabinet? The board members? The counter agencies that are the other parties? Did they act illegally?” Brassington questioned.
He was critical of the report and said the final draft was only presented to him last week even as he provided a copy with NICIL’s attached comments. Brassington was also critical of the breakdown of Goolsarran’s report saying that it did not have footnotes or references.
“I am not sure—and when we respond to the final report, we will look into this more closely—but a lot of information that Mr Goolsarran mentions in his report, he did not ask us for a lot of this so we have the difficult task of having to read the report and trying to figure out where would he have gotten this information from. So we have to comb through all of the questionnaires that he sent us and all of our responses. We have to see is there anything in there that we said. Then we have to try and [re]concile it because unfortunately a lot of the report does not present as I would have expected,” he said.
Brassington asserted that he expected more of a structured breakdown that was devoid of opinions and focused on facts.
Of the Privatisation Unit, he said, “We have government decisions at the highest level, the cabinet of this country, from the boards of the Privatisation Unit… endorsing what we do.”
He also declared that audits of NICIL by the Auditor General’s Office provide, “A body of processes that suggests no illegality. But many, many years after having done this, Mr Goolsarran in this audit, and I’ve been here 21 years at the Privatisation Unit, I’ve been here almost 14 years at NICIL, Mr Goolsarran who is an accountant due respect to him, is commenting on legal matters in his report but doesn’t provide legal opinions from expert attorneys to back this up so we have no legal precedent to suggest that anything… is violating Sections 216 and 217 [of the Constitution]. We have no legal cases that prove that, so there is no legal precedent.
“We have legal opinions that say you’re allowed to do so within the law,” the NICIL head said.
He emphasised that audits of NICIL by the AG’s office were clean and pointed out that the AG’s office had changed its mandate in recent years so that a final opinion was not issued on the NICIL annual audit until all the subsidiary audits were completed.
Stabroek News asked Brassington to explain why only after a resolution in the National Assembly in 2012 called on the Finance Minister to produce outstanding audits, were they presented in their entirety for 2002-2005. He responded that the audits were already prepared and were awaiting the final opinion and, as such, when the request was made in September 2012, it was a matter of days before NICIL could organize and present the audits with the final opinion attached.
In terms of any conflict of interest given that the Deputy Auditor General Gitanjali Singh is the wife of the then finance minister Ashni Singh, Brassington said the issue was brought to the attention of the Public Accounts Committee.
“Let me say this very clearly, as far as we know, she has not had anything to do with the NICIL audits whilst the minister of finance was Dr Ashni Singh,” Brassington asserted.
Brassington presented to reporters, NICIL’s responses to the information presented in the audit.
Among other things, the responses said that the $1.3 billion not accounted for in relation to the $3.7 billion transferred from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), was flagged at the board level of NICIL and unaccounted funds by one of the other parties involved in the transfer “are not evidence of wrongdoing on the part of NICIL.”
In terms of Goolsarran’s comments that NICIL was essentially carrying out a paymaster function that is typically associated with the operations of the Treasury Department of the Ministry of Finance and was therefore functioning as a `parallel’ treasury, NICIL responded that “over the decades many state-owned entities, such as GuySuCo, Guymine served as executing agencies for activities of the State such as managing health and educational activities, building roads, providing infrastructure and providing utility services. In fact, many of these activities continue to be undertaken by GuySuCo in their name.”
Stabroek News understands that should there be no response from Goolsarran in the next two weeks, the board of NICIL will be taking the final draft of the report which carries a date of October 26 and is 78 pages long, as the final report.