The APNU+AFC earned its razor-thin, one seat majority after the public and the electorate had become completely disenchanted with the corrupt practices of the PPP/C Government. President Granger had an impeccable record for decency, the APNU’s major coalition partner the Alliance for Change was strong on rhetoric and the WPA, though not an electoral force in its own right, enjoyed credibility among the electorate.
Yet, one and a half years into the administration the APNU+AFC government is fighting a battle to preserve its collective reputation after a series of steps that raise doubts about its integrity and that of its leading players. The situation has been developing for some time since the Government reneged on its commitment to significantly increase public sector wages and salaries while giving itself a substantial 50% increase and then arrogantly claiming that it has no apology to make.
Apparently, mainly the self-employed professionals convinced themselves and their Cabinet colleagues about the vast monetary sacrifice in terms of earnings forgone in their “employment” as ministers. Did anyone seek any corroborating evidence that these persons were declaring as income the amount they claimed to have been losing? The problem is that everyone in that Cabinet meeting was a beneficiary of their collective decision so no one was going to act against their self-interest. Their call for more money did not end there. In a Secret Document dated 2016-02-12, Cabinet made a decision on payment of generous overseas travel. For the President and the Prime Minister, Cabinet decided that there should be no fixed limit, no accountability and that the allowances should cover their expenses abroad, including those for their spouses when accompanying them on official business abroad.
Vice-Presidents, all Ministers, the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Chancellor and certain other persons are entitled to business class travel, hotel suites, US$100 per day to cover meals and US$50 per day for expenses.
Some of these allowances, but not the quantum, were paid under the PPP/C and the country and then opposition was scathing in their criticism of the apparent reckless spending. Now, this Government has decided to increase those allowances. It seems hard to justify unspecified, unlimited, unaccounted allowances to the President and the Prime Minister and their spouses. It does not escape notice too, that the daily amounts for hotel, subsistence and out-of-pocket expenses for ministers that exceed an entire month’s salary of a junior public servant.
And what makes this attitude so unacceptable is that some of these ministers continue to carry on their private practice, albeit on a more limited scale. This is no rumour: Ram & McRae has seen documentary evidence of this.
The AFC found its credential tarnished after the Government was persuaded to award the Specialty Hospital construction contract to the Indian company Fedders Lloyd which had lost out on its earlier bid but which Cabinet restored. The Government reacted negatively to the protests of the public but as fate would have it, the Indian Government pulled the plug on the loan and brought the project to an end.
President Granger himself acted improperly in taking gifts from businesspersons around the country for the otherwise commendable efforts to provide school children access to schools. In doing so however, Mr. Granger not only violated the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act but devalued the initiative by insisting that his name be on every bus or boat donated.
The Homestretch Development Inc.
There are so many conflicting versions of this matter that it is hard to know where to begin. The matter burst out in the open only days ago when Minister of Public Infrastructure Mr. David Patterson admitted in the National Assembly that a private company – Homestretch Development Inc. (HDI) – had been formed to undertake the D’Urban Park Project. He named a number of persons as directors but whether by accident or design he omitted to mention Dr. Rupert Roopnarine as one of the directors.
The President on his weekly show sought to defend Dr. Roopnarine and offered his views about HDI which he described as a special purpose company. It appears that the President was misled into misleading the public as the company never was a special purpose company. In fact among the types of business it was formed to carry on included the “import and export generally to and from Guyana” and the “business of Real Estate.” This is confirmed in the Articles of Incorporation which stated that there is no restriction on the business the company could carry on. That is not a special purpose company, if ever there was one.
The President was also reported as stating that the project was delayed because of the presentation of the Budget. In fact, when the President spoke his government had presented two budgets – one in August 2015 before sand filling of the site had taken place – and the other in January 2016. HDI was incorporated in January 22, 2016, one week before the presentation of the 2016 budget in which $350 million was approved for the Jubilee Celebrations.
Whether a company is a special purpose vehicle, a government company or a private (non-government) company they are all required to comply with the Companies Act. The Act contains rules dealing with contracts entered into before a company is incorporated, require an organisational meeting of the directors while the common law impose fiduciary duties of incorporators and promoters.
In addition to the $350 million voted in the 2016 Budget a further sum of $406,758,312 was spent out of the Contingencies Fund for the “completion of Durban Park Development Project to facilitate the holding of Guyana’s 50th Anniversary celebrations.”
In addition there would have been moneys received from the celebrations all of which need to be accounted for. In so far as the moneys were public moneys they ought to have been paid into the Consolidated Fund.
As of now, there clearly are more questions than answers. This is reminiscent of the World Cup saga under the PPP/C. As we did in that case, we now call for a full inquiry into all aspects of the D’Urban Park Project, including the government’s role and that of Homestretch Development Inc. and its directors.
Finally we draw attention to the Prime Minister Hamilton Green Pension Bill which seeks to provide a pension, benefits and other facilities to Mr. Green from 1985 to 1992. We have noted the several comments by Guyanese some of whom argue that he is entitled to a Pension. In fact, Mr. Green receives a statutory pension under the Pensions (President, Parliamentary and Special Offices) Act which provides for pensions to be paid to the President, the Prime Minister and other Parliamentary and Special Officers.
In other words, Mr. Hamilton Green who is in receipt of a statutory pension is selected from among several persons for special treatment. Indeed, not even Jagdeo was granted any special pension while Mr. Green is paid the full benefits and facilities of a former President, a position he never held.
Finally, we draw attention to the Government’s foot-dragging on the Code of Conduct, the Integrity Commission and constitutional reform. Questions are now being asked: were the APNU/AFC/WPA opposed to extravagant spending or simply opposed to the PPP/C in control of the levers of power.
The answer will test the APNU/AFC’s commitment to integrity, accountability, credibility and transparency.