Saga of GTT shares money rolls on

-NICIL eying arbitration months after Harmon ‘revelation’

The National Industrial and Commercial Invest-ments Limited (NICIL) is preparing to begin arbitration to recover the outstanding, mystery-riddled US$5 million for the sale of government shares in the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT).

This was disclosed by Officer in Charge of the government holding company, Horace James yesterday.

While not clarifying the conflicting reports as it pertains to the location of the money, James during an end-of-year press conference stressed that the money is still outstanding. This was the only press conference held for 2016. A media advisory sent out on Thursday stated that the Chairman, Dr. Maurice Odle would be hosting the pressing conference. He was however absent yesterday.

Horace James

“Let it be clear, NICIL has not received the remaining (US) $5M that is owed…NICIL is in the process of executing all the relief measures that are in the sales agreement in order for us to recover the $5M”, he said.

In March, Minister of State Joseph Harmon and a delegation controversially travelled to China to engage in discussions with regard to the payment of the US$5 million balance owed to the government for the purchase of 20% of GTT shares by Chinese company Datang Telecom Technology and Industry Group from NICIL in 2012. This deal was entered into by the PPP/C administration but only US$25 million of the agreed US$30 million was known to have been paid.

It was later revealed that Harmon had obtained documents which showed that the money was  paid over prior to the APNU+AFC coalition taking office and efforts were underway to track the money. “So, we are trying to track down to whom, how and where,” Minister of Natural Resources Raphael Trotman had said during a post-cabinet press briefing.

On April 28, NICIL released a statement which said that it had not received the outstanding balance (US$5m). Since then the previous administration and government have been trading blame and pointing fingers at each other. James’ declaration yesterday of arbitration would vindicate the PPP/C’s position that the money was not received despite the purported finding by Harmon.

James said that NICIL has already started consultations with the US lawyer that helped the company to draft the sales agreement. A firm in the UK has since been recommended for the arbitration aspect of the matter, he said before explaining that it is important that UK-based legal experts are used as the arbitration will take place in London. “We will seek all the relief measures that the agreement grants to us which will be among other things not only the recovery of our US$5M  but also interest, legal fees…we are going for the entire thing and also not only the signatory to the agreement, we are also going after the guarantor”, he said explaining that NICIL’s lawyers have presented all the issues concerning the share sale and have since advised that NICIL has a “very good chance” of getting all the relief that is being sought.

James confirmed that Harmon did submit a document to NICIL following his return from the fact-finding China trip. Asked about the contents of this document, James told reporters that it states that the purchaser of the shares indicated that they had discussions with former Guyana Ambassador to China, Dr David Dabydeen and that they were under the impression that they were relieved from paying the outstanding sum. James made it clear to reporters that the company was never relieved of this obligation.

Directly

“Any payment of the money was to be done directly to NICIL and that is the important thing. NICIL sold you something, you have to pay NICIL. NICIL don’t have to go looking…our position has always been we sold you the shares, you made an initial payment to us therefore …the second payment gotta be made to us so it is not our duty to go looking to find out if you pay anybody else”, he said.

According to James, the entity’s major contention is that the money is to be paid  over to it.

President David Granger, during a recording of the “Public Interest” in May had made it clear that it is former President Donald Ramotar who has to provide the answers.

“You have to ask Mr Ramotar where the money is,” he said. “I don’t know where it is. I would like to find out but the money went missing under the previous administration and it is certainly missing and that is what Mr Harmon’s mission was all about. We are trying to find out ourselves,” he added.

Ramotar, in a response to what Trotman had said, stated, “The claim by the APNU+AFC government that the money was received is a lie and I challenge the government to present the documents it has received (under suspicious and questionable circumstances) so that the veracity of the evidence can be tested and authenticated.”

Trotman had later clarified that he had been mistaken in his interpretation of the matter.

NICIL, in its statement then, outlined in detail the agreement that had been made between  NICIL and Hong Kong Golden Telecom Limited (HKGT) . It said that that on November 8, 2012, US$25 million was wired to NICIL and the remaining balance of US$5 million became due and payable to NICIL on October 22, 2014.

“Despite several written requests by NICIL, HKGT has still failed to pay the balance of the purchase price,” the release said, while adding that NICIL, in an attempt to bypass the court which would be costly and time-consuming, approached the Guyana Government for help in encouraging the payment of the outstanding balance through diplomatic channels.

“To NICIL’s knowledge, neither HKGT nor its related companies have alleged that the balance of US$5 million was paid. What was alleged by the purchaser’s signatory to the agreement was that following a series of communications with the former Guyana Ambassador to China (to be authenticated) HKGT was assured that they were not required to pay the balance of US$5 million, because the HKGT had not been granted the same minority protection rights enjoyed by NICIL (i.e. two, instead of one, representatives on the GT&T Board of Directors) which HKGT alleged were promised to them. HKGT also alleged that the decision to waive the US$5 million was contained in a side agreement,” NICIL said.

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