US$3M settlement for outstanding GTT shares payment not finalised

- Harmon

Joseph Harmon

Minister of State Joseph Harmon says that the US$3 million settlement offer made by Hong Kong Golden Telecom Limited (HKGT) on the outstanding balance for its purchase of government shares in the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company (GTT) is being actively considered, but the government’s goal is to recover the entire US$5 million that is owed.

“It is not final as yet. Nothing is final because we are still striving to get our US$5 million,” Harmon said when contacted by Stabroek News.

On Monday, sources with knowledge of the ongoing negotiations had said that the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) recently accepted the US$3 million offer, which would soon be engaging the attention of Cabinet.

Sources explained that it was felt that it would be wiser to accept the reduced sum than have the matter go to arbitration, which could result in Guyana spending most, if not all of the owed sum in legal costs alone.

Harmon, during an interview with Stabroek News, admitted that the Chinese company had made an offer. “Yes there had been an offer,” he said, before adding that it is being considered because no one “throws away money.”

He stressed on the fact that government is “looking to get all of our money. That’s an offer on the table. We’re looking at it.”

The shares were sold to the Chinese firm in 2012. The deal was entered into by the then PPP/C administration but only US$25 million of the agreed US$30 million was known to have been paid.

In March, 2016, Harmon and a delegation controversially travelled to China to engage in discussions regarding the outstanding money.

While it was later stated 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, NICIL said that it had not received the outstanding balance. The government later clarified that no such documents were received.

In December, 2016, it was revealed that NICIL was on the verge of preparing to begin arbitration to recover the outstanding balance. NICIL’s head Horace James had informed at that time that the entity had already started consultations with the US lawyer that helped the company to draft the sales agreement. A firm in the UK was recommended for the arbitration aspect of the matter, he had said, before explaining that it was important that UK-based legal experts were used as the arbitration would 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$5 million 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 had explained to reporters, while noting that NICIL’s lawyers had presented all the issues concerning the share sale and had advised that NICIL had a “very good chance” of getting all the relief that was being sought.

However, it was subsequently decided that NICIL would engage HKGT on a one-on-one basis as opposed to getting a third party involved.