The quest for $3b

What won’t this government do to funnel $3b from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA)? In recent weeks the desperate and deceptive efforts for this sum bespeak a government prepared to circumvent the limitations placed on it ironically by virtue of its own indefensible prorogation of Parliament. Without access to the National Assembly for these funds the government is trying every manoeuvre in the book and thereby bolstering opposition and civil society concerns that no new funds must be made available to it unless Parliament is functioning and there is some semblance of oversight.

What is even more troubling is that the government was prepared to stealthily tap the funds without even reporting to the public. However, its plans went awry and its intentions were exposed in the January 30th edition of Stabroek News. The night before, apparently becoming aware that the media was going to be reporting on the plan for the $3b, an unusual joint statement was issued by the GGMC and CH&PA trying to justify the transaction. There was no explanation or rationale for the issuing of this statement two weeks after the submission of an investment proposal by the CH&PA to the GGMC. This was the beginning of the rolling out of artifices and contrived arguments by the government and the agencies.

The joint statement by the two agencies said that the CH&PA had presented an investment proposal which would see the GGMC loaning it the sum with a rate of interest attached. The $3b was to be used in the housing programme. It was quickly pointed out by a number of analysts that any such use of GGMC monies would have been ultra vires the GGMC Act. More significantly, the loan represented an attempt to get around the fact that Parliament had been suspended and even if it was in session this type of gambit would have been voted down. The government was therefore prepared to go around the established and time-honoured mechanisms for the voting of funds. This is scandalous behaviour that the government should be censured for as it also makes a mockery of entrenched fiscal management procedures and invites serial violations. What is to stop the Guyana Forestry Commission from assigning surplus funds to the Zoo? It makes a complete mockery of the budgetary process and usual procedures for virement.

In its attempt to defend the arrangement, the GGMC two days later issued a statement arguing that the CH&PA loan should not be seen as an isolated case and it listed 33 instances where it had provided financial assistance totalling over $8 billion between 2012 and 2015 for various projects. All of these cases pertained to the period when the opposition was in control of Parliament and underlined the government’s preparedness to violate established procedures in moving money around and without parliamentary oversight.

The plan for the loan between the two agencies then attracted legal action which saw Chief Justice Chang ordering both agencies to justify it. In an affidavit in support of the action against the loan, CH&PA Director Ranwell Jordan deposed that the housing authority did not meet to discuss the proposal for $3b from the GGMC. He also swore that the CH&PA had not authorised any of its officers to sign any loan agreement on its behalf. Who then at the CH&PA authorised this loan or can agencies like these be completely overridden by politicians without a murmur from their managements and boards? In the face of this court case and a body of opinion that GGMC funds could only be applied towards areas that fell within its mining mandate, the government conveniently changed directions at its last Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. It abandoned the loan and went instead for a direct transfer from the GGMC to the CH&PA which on the face of it is even more offensive than the proposed loan. It also opportunistically attached to the transfer that the CH&PA housing pertained to mining areas and the nebulous “other areas where miners’ settlement occurs”. This course of action, too, it withheld from the public despite its Cabinet Secretary, Dr Luncheon holding a press conference the day after the Cabinet meeting.

Clearly feeling the heat over the proposed transfer and cognisant of the jeopardy the agency might face, the GGMC sought legal advice only to be told that the relevant minister acting on behalf of Cabinet has no power to order the transfer of funds. The advice further noted that the functions of the GGMC Act are set out in section 4 and do not “remotely relate to the development of housing infrastructure or anything connected to it even in mining communities …for miners”.

According to the advice the functions of the GGMC relate to the development of mining and mineral resources. It is now left to be seen what the GGMC will do. This will however be a case that will be cited in the future as it relates to governmental excesses and overreach.

The past three years of the Ramotar administration have been replete with instances of the worst forms of government unaccountability and violations of established fiscal management rules. No case is starker than the court matter brought by the opposition in relation to the unauthorized $4.5b expenditure in the name of Finance Minister Singh and which the Chief Justice in his ruling concurred that there was no authority for this spending.

These are serious matters that should and will have repercussions down the road for the officials in question. The government in the two months leading to general elections must do nothing to exacerbate this situation such as the ill-advised quest for GGMC funds or the abuse of state resources as part of the election campaign. Whichever government is in place after May 11th will face mounting questions and calls for action against the breaches that have occurred over the last three years at a time when there will be innumerable other priorities.

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