Questions have been raised about the recent approval of an application to operate a dredge in the name of Simona Broomes, the daughter of Junior Natural Resources Minister Simona Broomes.
Initially it had been thought that the applicant was the minister but she has since clarified to Stabroek News that the application is by her daughter. The two share the same first and last names.
A document bearing the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) letterhead and which is dated April 5, 2016, states that permission has been given to Simona Broomes, of Lot 8 West Indian Housing Scheme, Bartica, to operate a dredge from March 4, 2016 to March 3, 2017. The dredge, bearing the number SD #1967, according to the document, is to be operated on a permit located in the Puruni River, which is held by E Hopkinson.
Stabroek News is also in possession of a copy of the application that was made, which is dated March 4, 2016.
Broomes, in an invited comment last Friday, told Stabroek News that she has transferred the dredge to her children. “I went through the procedure of the transfer with the commissioner. I wrote him. They responded because you have to wait for a response,” she said.
She said that after the response was received, both of her children went into GGMC, signed the required documents and paid the fee for the transfer.
There are concerns that even though the application was made by the younger Broomes, conflicts would arise. Observers say that the minister would likely be privy to lucrative areas that might become available to miners and this would raise concerns about insider information.
Asked to respond to such lines of thought, Broomes said she does not see any conflict of interest. “All my life, since I left school, I have been in mining. When my kids became of age, we became partners and now, being a minister, I have taken a personal decision that I don’t want to have control of any dredges,” she said.
She explained that she had one dredge remaining in her name and she transferred it to her children. “All the family ever does is mining. So, in no way at all I don’t see it as a conflict of interest. There is no preference or anything that I have to give there,” she stressed.
The junior Broomes was last known to be studying abroad, raising questions as to when she became interested in mining. When asked about this, Minister Broomes reiterated that the members of her family have been involved in mining all their lives.
The successful application would raise concerns about whether the junior Broomes is a proxy for the minister.
Further, the minister now has oversight responsibility for a mining application by her daughter, which observers say poses a conflict of interest. This transaction, observers say, raises again the question of the government’s failure to present its long-promised code of conduct to guide ministerial conduct in such situations.
Meanwhile, Minister Broomes expressed concern about the leakage of confidential information to the media.
”While I am not surprise, I think it was very dangerous that staff and people from GGMC are going into people’s personal file and taking out information in collusion with people with political wickedness and trying to destroy people,” she said.
The minister noted that what has transpired in this particular instance is a reason for concern. “I have nothing to hide and nothing buried… I have the best interest of the country, the sector and people at heart. Broomes is not a corrupter neither is Broomes in any way in a conflict of interest,” she told Stabroek News.
In January, the Ministry of Natural Resources had announced that it had solicited a legal opinion on concerns that the mining holdings of Broomes conflicted with her role as minister. It is unclear what advice was received. The announcement came in the wake of criticisms and calls for the minister to relinquish her interests in the sector.
Broomes herself had said then that she saw no conflict of interest. “I don’t see it as a conflict of interest. I have three mining properties in the Issano and Pharsalus and I had a contract gone back years and if they are to mine the area it is simple, we come back to the table, if I am to get a percentage or if they are going to buy me out and that is simple. I don’t see any conflict of interest there and that is very straightforward,” she had told a news conference.
Pharsalus Gold Inc is a subsidiary of Troy Resources Inc.
Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman had supported Broomes’ position, while saying that she is not the only minister who has mining properties or business interests. “In the event that there is a perception or likelihood of a conflict… I will take over and ensure that she is insulated and kept at arm’s length,” he said.
According to the draft Code of Conduct for ministers, which has still to be finalised since last August, it is the personal responsibility of every Minister, Members of Parliament and public office holders to understand and comply with the Code of Conduct, in particular by conscientiously avoiding any conflict of interest, and making declaration and seeking prior permission from the government in accordance with the code in any case of exception.
The draft code says that a conflict of interest situation arises when the “private interests” of the public office holder compete or conflict with the interests of the state. “Private interests” mean both the financial and personal interests of the official and staff or those of their connections including family and other relations; personal friends; other companies or business interests which they hold or own (both in part or in whole); other clubs and societies to which they belong; and any person to whom they owe a favour or are obligated in any way.
“Ministers, Members of Parliament and public office holders should avoid using their official position or transmitting any information made available to them in the course of their work to benefit themselves, their relations or any other individuals with whom they are associated. They should avoid compromising themselves or their office and which may lead to an actual or perceived conflict of interest. Failure to avoid or declare any conflict of interest may give rise to criticism of favouritism, abuse of authority or even allegations of corruption,” it adds.