‘Clean your own house’

-PPP/C says in rejecting invitation to anti-corruption walk

Gail Teixeira

The Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) has declined an invitation from the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA) to participate in its anti-corruption walk, citing a series of transgressions by the government and calling on it to `clean its own house’.

In a letter to Director of SARA, Professor Clive Thomas, the parliamentary opposition declared that government must first “clean your own house” before engaging in a “symbolic walk” which is a mere “smoke screen to detract from the grossest violations of the constitutional and statutory provisions regarding financial probity, transparency and accountability ever witnessed since independence.”

Thomas had written to Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo inviting him to participate in the walk scheduled for April 20, 2018, however, in responding, Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira said that the PPP/C will not participate in such a walk while members and other public officials of successive PPP/C governments have been “discriminated against, victimized, and targeted by a state-sponsored witch-hunt on frivolous manufactured charges” and while a “corruption haemorrhage” continues.

Noting that Jagdeo and the PPP/C are “supportive of any efforts that will strengthen the state’s institutional, legal and procedural framework for fighting corruption in keeping with the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption, the UN Convention Against Corruption and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”, Teixeira in the letter laid several charges of corruption at the feet of this government. She noted that the Auditor General’s Annual Report for 2016 found 82 breaches of the FMAA and 71 breaches of the Procurement Act.

“The US State Department Report, March 2018, titled, `International Narcotics Control Strategy Report – Volume II,’ identifies Government corruption, for the first time in Guyana’s history, as one of the main source of money-laundering…”, she wrote.

The report actually states that narcotics trafficking and government corruption are the primary sources of laundered funds in Guyana.

The opposition spokeswoman also listed eight other financial controversies which have beset this government since it assumed office.

These include Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence’s directive to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) to purchase $620M in drugs and pharmaceuticals supplies in 2017.  This occurred without any resort to the procurement process.  The GPHC then publicly accepted a gift of a freezer from this supplier to store some of these pharmaceuticals, she noted.

“… The Minister of Finance was forced to produce in the National Assembly the NPTAB’s records of requests for and grants of waivers of the tender process which revealed that the Ministry of Health’s request for the waiver was denied yet it went ahead and procured this enormous quantum of pharmaceuticals in blatant disregard of the rule of law,” Teixeira argued.

She then reminded SARA of the “now famous contract for the Sussex Street Bond -a mere house- which the Government rents in (Charlestown), for $14M GYD per month to store pharmaceuticals, when that same house can only yield a rental of approximately $100,000 GYD, on the open market.”

Teixeira noted that then Minister of Public Health Dr. George Norton admitted in the National Assembly that this contract was signed without resort to any form of procurement.

‘[For this admission] he was placed before the Privileges Committees a matter which remains pending since 2016. [Additionally] despite a special cabinet review team that found that the contract was flawed, and, Minister(of State Joseph) Harmon stating in 2016 that the Cabinet would reconsider the contract, it remains intact and over $300M GYD thus far has been garnered by the owner in rental. In 2017 the Bond was found to contain no pharmaceuticals and medical supplies,” the chief whip stated.

D’Urban Park

The next project to be criticized was the construction of the Jubilee D’Urban Park facilities for which government expended over $2B of taxpayers’ dollars and established a Special Purpose Company that was given the responsibility to raise funds and implement major construction works.

The company included then Minister of Education Dr. Rupert Roopnaraine and known members of the PNC.

“In 2016/2017 the taxpayers had to pay for the construction of the facilities in time for the 50th Anniversary by way of supplementary financial provisions with no disclosure as to the total costs incurred. Again, there was no resort to any form of public procurement. Despite repeated demands, they cannot produce any credible records to the Office of the Auditor General, in relation to this project. This matter was also brought to the attention of the newly appointed constitutional Public Procurement Commission in September 2017 to investigate and no action has been taken,” Teixeira reminded, before going on to the pre-feasibility study for a New Demerara Harbour Bridge.

It has been reported that the contract for this study was in September 2017 awarded to a company that did not bid despite there being a public tender where 12 companies bid and one was shortlisted.

“This procurement breach was also documented to the Public Procurement Commission in the same month and to date, it has taken no action to investigate or rectify the matter,” she stressed.

The opposition Chief Whip then turned her attention to the Production Sharing Agreement with ExxonMobil’s subsidiary which she contends was “surreptitiously negotiated” in 2016.

“This Government…for over a year refused to make it public despite thunderous public pressure…the exposure of the …agreement with Exxon signed in June 2016, remains the subject of major public debate,” Teixeira stated, adding that “the government’s sale of the country’s newly found oil and natural gas resources for a pittance is a shame on all Guyanese and a stain Guyana will have to endure for decades to come. Even the IMF and countless international petroleum watchdog bodies have found this to be a flawed agreement in violation of basic acceptable international standards for first discovery oil countries and have noted that Guyana will be grossly disadvantaged from reaping its just rewards.”

Attention was also drawn to the US$18M signing bonus received from this agreement which according to the parliamentarian was “surreptitiously stashed in a secret bank account” with not a word uttered about it to the public for over a year.

“In December 2017, the media exposed proof of the USD $18 M signature bonus that government received from Exxon. The funds were put in a Bank of Guyana interest bearing foreign currency account instead of being deposited in the Consolidated Fund as required by the constitution… [a] matter [which] has been taken to the courts [even as] government continues to refuse to move the monies to the Consolidated Fund to reflect accurately the country’s revenues in compliance with the constitution,” Teixeira stated.

Government was further criticized by Teixeira for taking 30 months to appoint the Integrity Commission which after 3 months is not functioning after defeating a 2016 parliamentary opposition motion calling for all Members of Parliament to make public their income tax submissions and their Integrity Commission declarations for the previous 10 years. All after “secretly paying itself, retroactively, a 100% increase in salary, to July 1, 2015, mere weeks after assuming office.”

Teixeira asked how in the light of this list of transgressions by this Government, can one wonder why the Parliamentary Opposition, critical national stakeholders and thousands of Guyanese are angry at the audacity of this government to accuse others of corruption when there is nothing being done to stop this “corruption haemorrhage” undermining the rule of law in the country.

She challenged Thomas to utilize the “super powers” he has been granted by the passage of the SARA Act to take action “to bring members of the present government to book.”

“As they say clean your own house so that others can see the light and know you are serious about fighting corruption! You are right, sir, “Corruption is everyone’ business”; we have made it ours, maybe you can demonstrate to the Guyanese people that it is yours,” Teixeira stated.

Table showing summary of the findings from the 2016 Auditor General’s Report

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