An administrative decision was made to rent living quarters for Junior Minister of Natural Resources, Simona Broomes at a price tag of $500,000 per month as there is no constitutional provision for rentals for a minister, Clerk of the National Assembly Sherlock Isaacs says.
Isaacs’ disclosure yesterday was in response to a letter from former Attorney General Anil Nandlall on the authority for the rental for Broomes and related matters. Isaacs’ recent disclosure to Stabroek News on the house rentals for Broomes and Minister Valerie Patterson has sparked consternation over the $500,000 per month ceiling. These rentals, he said, pertain only to ministers from out of town. It has however been pointed out that Broomes was living in Georgetown at the time of her appointment as a minister. Two other ministers are expected to also benefit from the same $500,000 per month facility.
“I wish to refer to your letter in connection with rented living accommodation for Ms. Simona Broomes, M.P…It should be noted that Chapter 1:7 of the Laws of Guyana does not treat the rental of houses for use by ministers of Government. The rental of living accommodation for a minister is done by way of an administrative decision,” Isaacs wrote in response to Nandlall.
Isaacs further explained that the law only treats with the payment of salaries and allowances of ministers, members of the National Assembly and the holders of certain officers. Since the rental is not an allowance it was dealt with administratively. He said that depending on the cost of the rent, approval of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) is also obtained but did not go into explaining why.
“The rental of house for a minister is not an allowance. Therefore, there is no statutory/constitutional provision or order authorizing same” Isaacs states.
The National Assembly Clerk does not state who is responsible for making the decision, or in the case of Broomes who made the decision on the quantum of the rent, and Nandlall wants this question answered. As such the PPP/C Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs replied to Isaacs’ letter yesterday, seeking additional answers on the decision maker on the $500,000 rental and wants Isaacs to state that why Broomes who is not a senior minister was afforded this level of living accommodation.
“You contend that the rental of living accommodation for a Minister is done by way of an “administrative decision”. In the case of Minister Broomes’s rental accommodation to which my letter refers, please indicate who made the “administrative decision” to rent at a rate of $500,000 GYD per month? What factors were taken into account in determining such a rate of rental of living accommodation for a Junior Minister, having regard to the fact that the law provides only $25,000 GYD, as a housing allowance for the Prime Minister, the Attorney General and senior Ministers of the Government?” Nandlall asked in his latest correspondence.
He wants to know also that since Isaacs points to approval from NPTAB, where are the documents to support this posture.
“What process of competitive procurement was embarked upon, if any, in respect of this transaction? Finally, was the approval of the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) obtained?
In your letter, you indicated that depending upon the cost of the rent, the approval of the NPTAB is obtained. In this regard, I would be grateful if you can provide me with a copy of the rental contracts, if any, which the NPTAB approved,” Nandlall wrote.
He later told Stabroek News that in addition to answers from Isaacs, supplementary probing will be undertaken.
“We will be seeking answers including interrogation at the Public Accounts Committee, asking questions from the floor and we do not rule out making a formally complaint to the police and SOCU (Special Organised Crime Unit). And if those do not yield a satisfactory response then we will consider filing private criminal charges against all those we consider are implicated,” Nandlall said.
Isaacs had been asked on Monday by this newspaper to explain how Parliament Office had rented a home for Broomes for the sum of $500,000 a month if the ministerial house allowance was capped at $25,000. Asked if the allowance had been increased, Isaacs said an increase to allow a maximum rent of $500,000 had been approved.
He has since clarified that the increase is only for rental of houses for ministers who are from outside of Georgetown. The housing allowance remains $25,000 for all other ministers. Broomes who hails from the Region 7 town of Bartica was living in Georgetown up to the time she joined the APNU+AFC government.
This newspaper understands that she was at the time renting and when given the portfolio she now holds was offered a place in Echilibar Villas – the government flats – but refused it.
Following this newspaper’s report, Nandlall wrote Isaacs on Tuesday seeking clarity to a number of questions.
Isaacs was asked to provide the statutory/constitutional provision or order which authorized such use of public monies and for copies of any other rental contracts for living accommodations for ministers of the government entered into by the Parliament Office/Clerk of the National Assembly.
According to the Ministers, Members of the National Assembly and Special Offices (Emoluments) Act, the Prime Minister, Senior Ministers and Attorney General are each entitled to occupy, free of rent, a furnished residence provided by the government or in lieu thereof to be paid a house allowance.
Nandlall makes reference to his own pending case about the 14 law books saying that it was the main reason he sought to query the actions.
“You must be aware that the decision of an Executive President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana to grant certain concessions to a most senior functionary of his Cabinet and senior Minister of Government and Attorney General, as part of the latter’s contract of service, resulted in the institution of a criminal charge which is still pending. Hence my queries,” he tells Isaacs.
Stabroek News understands that prior to 2015, any rent over the $25,000 allowance was paid by the Office of the President, which also paid for domestic services used by ministers. Additionally, the Ministry of Agriculture paid for gardening services and the ministry to which the minister was assigned paid their telephone bill.
Finance Minister Winston Jordan had explained that this is no longer the case. “All allowances are to be paid by Parliament.
It is Parliament which pays ministers and therefore no government ministry should be covering the living expenses of a minister,” Jordan explained.
But Nandlall believes that it was a calculated move to move the payments from the Ministry of the Presidency to Parliament since it would be lumped into one sum and would not have to stand the scrutiny of the Committees of Supply during Budget debates.
He posited, “This reckless use of public funds has escaped parliamentary scrutiny because the parliament’s budget is the subject of a block vote since it has been categorized as a constitutional agency that is entitled to such treatment. Therefore, the opposition no longer gets an opportunity to scrutinize the budget of the parliament line item by line item because everything is lumped as one.
“Recognizing this loophole, and lack of transparency, this administration decided to use the parliamentary budget as a milking cow. So they have transferred all expenditures allowances, and privileges personal to ministers from office of the president (Ministry of the Presidency) to the parliament’s office under the guise of utilizing chapter 107 of the laws of Guyana which provides for salaries and allowances for ministers, members of the national assembly and holders of certain offices. Before, while most of these expenditures were being paid for from (Ministry of the Presidency) budget there was absolute scrutiny in the committee of supply line item by line item. This administration deliberately changed that in order to remove that layer of scrutiny. So currently we don’t know and the public is in the dark as to what other benefits are being paid to ministers under the blanket of the parliament office. This is the height of unaccountability, lack of transparency and abuse of public funds,” he added.
Asked about reference to PPP/C’s ministers being afforded the same benefits, Nandlall said the two could not be compared.
He explained, “(Former Home Affairs Minister Clement) Rohee lived in a property owned by the state which was occupied by him rent free. I made inquiries about Pauline Sukhai, my information was US$9000 was paid for Pauline for a period of time until her house was completed. Under construction and minister Jennifer Westford also lived for a period in rented premises for $200,000 (per month) I want to make it abundantly clear that under the PPP government, no minister, certainly not a junior minister’s rent was paid for 500k or anything close to that sum.”