As carefree children dancing in the magical moonlight during hot nights of electricity blackouts, we would gaze up in wonder at the full glowing orb and compete to pinpoint the fabled “man on the moon.” This low-lying near side, the Procellarum is covered in craters crammed with dense, dark volcanic material that allowed us to trace the familiar face, and we would momentarily hold our breath barely daring to blink, as we watched for the visage to emerge as the rocky ball rose.
Historically, nyctalopia, also known as moonblink, was a form of night blindness believed to be caused by the superstitious sleeping in the tropical moonlight. We know now that among the causes is myopia or near-sightedness where people have difficulty discerning distant objects but can clearly make out items that are close. For example, someone who is afflicted may not be able to identify DANGER! signs until they are just a few feet away and doubtless heading off the cliff or on a one-way trip to the distant astronomical body.
Symptoms range from headaches to eyestrain, squinting and fatigue, with afflicted children commonly complaining of being unable to see the chalkboard at school. Due to a refractive error the eyeball is too long or the cornea excessively curved so the light entering becomes unfocused resulting in blurred vision.
The Government may therefore have to order a range of specialised health and eye tests to determine the source of extensive glaucoma, cataracts and Vitamin A deficiency in all those responsible, be it at the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB), in Cabinet and/or elsewhere for a questionable list of blinding transactions. Yet to be determined is whether members have been dozing off in the moon and sunlight and whether they suffer from undiagnosed photophobia, macular degeneration, astigmatism and conjunctivitis.
As a Stabroek News (SN) editorial pointed out recently, “Some of the procurement bloopers presided over by the current administration just couldn’t be made up. An ‘emergency’ purchase of Closed Circuit Televisions (CCTV) under the Ministry of the Presidency is still to be delivered 17 months after it was ordered for no less than the National Intelligence Centre. How has the centre of intelligence gathering managed without this ‘emergency’ purchase? It now transpires that the California-based supplier of the CCTV has declared bankruptcy. The name of the company? MoonBlink. The company probably blinked at a key moment or vanished in the blink of an eye. To compound matters, there was no bond attached to this contract to cover eventualities like bankruptcy.”
It certainly was not a request for a meteoric chunk, yet the Ministry went ahead and paid in full the $19.108M out of the Contingency Fund back in December 2015. During a recent Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearing, the country learnt of the apparent barking at the moon since the Sunnyvale, California-based company MoonBlink Communications, reportedly filed the legal process. Pressed by two Opposition parliamentarians, the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary (PS) Abena Moore acknowledged that such monies are meant to be used for “urgent” and “unforeseen” matters. While she tried to argue that obtaining the CCTV systems was crucial, this claim was challenged given that many months have passed and the items and their installation remain undelivered.
Moore stated that it was not the first time that the ministry had dealt with the contractor and the two had a relationship spanning some six years. With a full report consequently requested by the PAC, she indicated the issue is being followed up by the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon and his counterpart at the Ministry of Legal Affairs, with support sought too from the American Embassy.
“This contract was one of those approved under the APNU-AFC government and it exhibits several of the flaws common under the previous administration,” SN said.
In another case cited in the Auditor General’s report, $11.7M of an allocated $12 million was spent on fencing and the installation of perimeter lights at Building E, Castellani Compound, where the National Intelligence Centre is based. After physical measurements were taken, it was discovered that the total overpayments reached $2,307,700. This contract, like several others, was sole sourced. No performance bond was in place, and according to Moore, although the contractor has agreed to repay the amount, he has indicated that he is out of work and cannot presently honour the commitment.
Like the myopia that runs in families and usually appears in childhood, the alarming condition plateaus, but it can worsen, like bad habits and lunacy, with age. The PAC session also heard about the $13.8M full deposit for a Toyota Land Cruiser Station Wagon GX for current Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo in January 2016 with Beharry Automotive Limited (BAL) taking eight months to hand over the vehicle.
Eclipsing them all are, of course, the ongoing questions over the $605M emergency drug purchase from Trinidad and Tobago’s conglomerate ANSA McAl by Health Minister Volda Lawrence for the Georgetown Hospital without the knowledge of the statutory NPTAB, the order for which is now under review by the Public Procurement Commission .
Tired Guyanese who had believed such moves would happen once in a blue moon with a coalition Government are now left to wonder whether desiring clean governance and transparent financial public propriety may be utterly unattainable as desiring the moon and stars.
There is no publicly available online evidence of MoonBlink filing for Chapter 11 protection, its website is under construction and a suave and smiling Kevin Sitzes, listed at 39 on Crunchbase.com as “the Founder, Co-Founder, President and CEO” of the wireless and video surveillance distribution company MoonBlink.com, occasionally surfaces on Twitter.
On May 4 last he tweeted “Rumination stymies action” on top of the luminous gem “Life is like being at the dentist. You always think that the worst is still to come, and yet it is over already” attributed to Prussian statesman and the first German Chancellor Prince Otto Von Bismarck. “How good you are when you first learn something is not a good indicator of how well you will become” is another shining contribution and anybody’s guess as to the latent meaning, while on March 30 he offered the $19M metaphorical question that could be just as well directed at our political luminaries, “What will you think as an old man/woman about the decisions you are making today?”
Having ruled for two decades the Opposition PPP/Civic can hardly be over the moon with the latest embarrassing disclosures, given their own tarnished record and blatant disregard for the country’s laws. For instance in his 2010 report on the public accounts, the Auditor General Deodat Sharma identified clear financial abuses, procurement breaches and overpayment of contractors. He highlighted a massive remittance of $1.252B to a sole source, the private New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation (NGPC), the successor to the public company that was divested to a key party supporter and close friend of then President Bharrat Jagdeo.
If nyctalopia is described as an insufficient adaptation to darkness, then most of Guyana may need to heed the sage advice of the Roman encyclopaedist and medical doctor Aulus Cornelius Celsus, who 2000 years ago described night blindness and recommended an effective dietary supplement: “Sufferers should anoint their eyeballs with the stuff dripping from a liver whilst roasting, preferably of a he-goat, or failing that of a she-goat; and as well they should eat some of the liver itself.”
I think too of recurring oxymorons, Beethoven’s beautiful “Moonlight Sonata” and the 19th century story behind the famous piano composition. Beethoven meets a blind girl and stricken by her fate, he passionately composes and plays the “Number 14” piece, while watching how the moonlight beaming through the open window is reflected in her fair features.
Alas, it is all just a myth according to scholars, very much like the “man in the moon” and the mad moongazer tales of Guianese lore best captured in the white figure’s shivering menace and shimmering legendary images of terror, through a powerful series of intense oils on canvas painted by the master Aubrey Williams, in the National Collection – at Castellani House near the National Intelligence Centre.
ID loves “Moonlight Sonata” and wonders about Frank Sinatra’s “Fly me to the moon, Let me play among the stars” given that scientists conclude base villages on the natural satellite could become reality this century through cooperation between astronauts and robotic systems.