The GTT US$5M shares issue defies logic

Dear Editor,

On reading Kaieteur News’ Thursday, July 27, lead story, ‘Cabinet to decide way forward on outstanding US$5M for GTT shares,’ I noticed it made no mention of State Minister Joe Harmon’s 2016 trip to China, with an entourage.

The entourage, which reportedly included businessman, B K Tiwarie, went to hold discussions about the payment of the same outstanding US$5M owed government for the GTT shares bought by a Chinese firm in 2012. It probably would have been helpful if KN could have gotten the government to tell the nation how much the Chinese firm has collected in annual dividends so far from GTT.

Nevertheless, for the benefit of readers, let us recap that Minister Harmon left Guyana in March 2016 on a visit in relation to the US$5M in GT&T shares, but fortuitously the visit morphed into an attempt at attracting Chinese investors to Guyana. There was even a photo-op of Minister Harmon aboard a Chinese plane and a subsequent attempted press briefing clarification of the photo-op on his return to Guyana.

But once the January 19, 2016 appointment of Mr Tiwarie as a Business Advisor to the coalition government was made public, President David Granger quickly moved to rescind the appointment. “He is not performing any functions and that is why the position is rescinded. He is not required to perform any business function. We have a Minister of Business, and as far as I am concerned, the Minister is quite capable and competent, and he has not asked me for any assistance, and I personally rescinded Mr Tiwarie’s appointment.” (KN, April 1, 2016).

In a Ministry of the Presidency press release carried by Stabroek News on April 1, 2016, the ministry reported that Minister Harmon had “returned from an official trip to the People’s Republic of China. The purpose of the visit was to engage in discussions with regard to the payment of the US$5 million balance owed for the purchase of 20 per cent of Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) shares by Chinese company, Datang Telecom Technology and Industry Group from NICIL in 2012”.

In his defence, Minister Harmon held out that his decision to appoint Tiwarie as a Ministerial Advisor on business development was above board and was a mere “honorific title”. On his way back from China, he stopped over in New York and told KN the facts of the matter were being twisted. In fact, he firmly believed that the criticisms which have since ensued regarding the matter, were all part of a plot to jeopardize his political career.

He then reiterated that he will deal with this matter specifically at a media briefing very soon. “I will do a full presser on the matter when I return.” In an April 14, 2016 news article by Demerara Waves, Minister Harmon spoke at length on possible investments by Chinese companies and precious little on the status of the GTT shares recovery attempt.

Following a back and forth between government and opposition officials as to whether the money was written off or paid off, the matter fell into Resources Minister Raphael Trotman’s lap, before winding up on NICIL Chairman Horace James’s desk. So, here we are, today, reading of an attempt by the same Chinese company to pay zero, then US$1M, thenUS$2M to settle the matter.

This is one of those news stories that defies logic and keeps growing legs as it runs all over the place in search of a sanctuary of escape from basic facts being found out. Like so many other Guyanese, I just don’t get the logic, for example, of any government-foreign company shares buying agreement that would have a stipulation that calls for any future disagreement to be settled in a court in London. It was as if the Chinese company deliberately expected a disagreement, but that faux pas was only made worse when Minister Harmon, and not the Minister of Business, made a trip related to a business agreement and came back empty handed. It later shocked us when Minister Harmon described the trip as “successful”.

As I said before, this GTT shares news story defies logic as it continues to grow legs, and it would do the government well to come straight and full, with no chinks on this matter, because as with other red flag issues in the last two years, this government is not only giving itself a bad name, but giving an angry and power hungry opposition enough rope to hang government with in full view of a corruption-wary, transparency-hungry public.

This issue is not petty and personal; it is political and practical. The downfall of the PPP was not that it was merely corrupt or lacked transparency and accountability, but it deliberately and arrogantly refused to heed public calls about same.

Yours faithfully,

Emile Mervin

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