Questionable spending 

Questions posed by Members of Parliament to Ministers of the Government continue to elicit interesting answers and this mechanism should be utilised to the fullest in the public’s interest.

At Monday’s sitting of the National Assembly questions by PPP/C MP Anil Nandlall were answered on continuing payments for the renting of a bond in Charlestown and another rental for the Law Reform Commission on Robb Street.

On the question about the bond, the Minister of Public Health, Volda Lawrence disclosed that up to March of this year, the government had already paid out $264m to the favoured supplier of the service, a Mr Lawrence Singh. Two years after this deal first surfaced through the agency of Mr Nandlall in Parliament, fundamental questions remain about whether this government really shuns cronyism, wasteful expenditure and opaque transactions.

The outstanding questions are ripe for a swift investigation – not one of those pretentious Commissions of Inquiry the government is fond of. There is no evidence to date that the rental of the bond from Mr Singh was needed at all. For months nothing was stored there and even today, the key need is storage of a piece of sensitive equipment for the Bartica Hospital.

Under these circumstances, it would seem that this deal was purely constructed to favour a financier of the PNCR, Mr Singh so he could help himself and the party/government in some way or the other. Has President Granger acquainted himself fully on this matter? Or is this one of those arrangements he has turned a convenient blind eye to? Whichever way, based on everything that is known about this deal, it warrants immediate investigation by the law enforcement authorities for transgression of procurement laws. By what competitive process was a contract for at least $12m per month of taxpayers’ money assigned? Who in this government signalled to Mr Singh that there was much money to be made from the supply of a bond? How was the selection of Mr Singh justified considering that he was a novice in the business of providing bond services? Another item of interest is the fact that Mr Singh purchased the building with the first generous down payment from the government of $25m. In essence, perhaps in keeping with the good life for all, the APNU+AFC government financed Mr Singh’s renewed foray into business here. Mr Singh also presently occupies a building that was formerly closely linked to a sitting Minister of Government. It is high time that Messrs Thomas and Retemyer of SARA/SARU seriously consider whether their attention shouldn’t be more closely focused on this transaction. 

To a second question asked by Mr Nandlall, the Attorney General disclosed that part of a building had been rented by the Law Reform Commission on Robb Street for the princely sum of $850,000 per month since November of last year. No commissioner has yet been appointed yet the rental is in force. The monthly rental sounds like sumptuously appointed premises for work that has not yet started and which could hardly require more than a single floor of any average rental. Furthermore, there is vacant office space all around the city. So again, by what competitive process was this rental deal struck and is it justified? Who in the administration is responsible for considering whether taxpayers are getting value for money? They should get busy.

When these issues are taken together with scandalous expenditure such as on the D’Urban Park stands, one gets the impression that the APNU+AFC government is doling out public funds to its cronies from the past and the present for projects of dubious use. This has no place in public life and must be extirpated. The only problem is that no one in government appears to have the will to do what is right by the public.

When these expenditures, in addition to the one for the house rental for Minister Broomes in Bel Air are ranged against the paltry $100,000 unashamedly handed out on Friday by Minister Ramjattan to the families of the piracy victims, one gets the impression that there are sharp gradations in this administration’s concept of the good life.

Then there was an example from the PPP/C’s term in office which should raise similar concerns. An audit report for 2014 of the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC) – the report should not be backlogged this far – has found that a major contractor, Courtney Benn Contracting Services received large advances from the government between 2008 and 2014 and some of the contracted jobs were not done. Courtney Benn Contracting has maintained a stony silence. If what the auditors found is borne out, then an investigation is required and will have to focus on the age-old question of the abilities of contractors and whether they should be allowed to take on jobs and collect advances for them when they may not be in a position to fulfil them.

The management of the DHBC will have to painstakingly match all contract payments to works that were to be done. These tasks will have to be measured by the auditors and a determination of the matter made. How could it be that such large sums were advanced without the requisite work being done? Who was supposed to be monitoring these works for the DHBC and why did it not flag the failures to complete the jobs and refer these matters to the Ministry of Public Works and the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board? This matter requires urgent probing and the DHBC and Courtney Benn Contracting have serious questions to answer.

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