Mr. Nigel Hinds’s letter “Masters of Finance – Singh, Greenidge & Ram” (Stabroek News, March 15, 2012) has drawn sharp comments on the meaning and intent of the term “best and brightest”, particularly from those who felt that Mr. Hinds was unjustifiably praising Dr. Ashni Singh, the Minister of Finance.
In fact, “best and brightest” is a term of deprecation going back at least to a letter in a 1769 publication in which the writer used it mockingly and ironically to describe King George III’s ministers. Exactly two hundred years later, its place in infamy was sealed when journalist David Halberstam used it as the title of his # 1 bestseller which exposed the intellectual bankruptcy of the whiz-kids of John Kennedy’s disastrous policy that led to America’s ignominious defeat in the Vietnam War.
That it was in that context of derision that Mr. Hinds identified Dr. Singh is clear from his paragraph calling for his “cleansing the Augean Stables filled with questionable deals, those facilitated by National Commercial and Industrial Development Limited (NICIL), sale of Sanata Textile Mills, Amaila Falls Project engineered by the infamous Fip Motilal, Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation [GPHC] contracts with New Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation [New GPC], and the absence of lottery funds from Consolidated Fund to name a ‘few’”.
It is public knowledge that Dr. Singh was personally involved in every one of these “questionable deals”, and in the case of the “infamous” Fip Motilall, Dr. Singh’s ministry caused to be issued through GINA a three-page attack of undignified calumny on “Ram-like critics” who, on the bizarre selection of Fip Motilall as contractor for the road to the Amaila Falls, dared to expose Motilall as a fake contractor. They have been proved right and Dr. Singh wrong.
In the case of the GPHC and New GPC contracts, it is the Dr. Singh-controlled National Procurement and Tender Administration Board that annually approves single source contracts, and outrageous of all, Dr. Singh chairs the truly egregious National Industrial & Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL) which spearheaded the tender for the Amaila Road Project.
But these were only a few examples of Dr. Singh’s “brightness”. Here are some others:
1. Every single audit report since Dr. Singh became Minister of Finance reminds us that “the Contingencies Fund continues to be abused”. And the abuser: the Minister of Finance in whom section 41 (2) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA) invests sole powers and responsibilities over the Contingencies Fund.
2. Dr. Singh’s Finance Ministry has underwritten every one of the corrupt transactions of the Jagdeo Administration since October 2006, including the infamous Pradoville 2 for which Dr. Singh’s NICIL allotted house lots to former President Jagdeo, Cabinet Members, members of NICIL board and friends, all at below market price; computer purchases from a Brooklyn barbershop location; sole sourcing of school books for $90 million; disastrous multi-billion dollar road and other infrastructure contracts; and the sale and giveaway of state properties.
3. On all but one occasion of Dr. Singh’s presentation of the [annual] mid-year report under section 67 of the FMAA, the report pre-dates by months the date of its publication, prompting integrity concerns about Dr. Singh.
4. Dr. Singh has never once complied with section 21 of the FMAA dealing with conditional appropriations, concealing the real annual budget deficit. . Nor on his own recent admission in the National Assembly, has he ever complied with the section 24 (4) of the FMAA, on each of the fourteen occasions he came to the National Assembly for supplementary funds.
5. Dr. Singh has begun to use creative financing to plug the ballooning budget deficit caused by over-spending and non-receipt of the Norway money. In 2010 he treated $11.117 billion as Miscellaneous Income, “the net result of the ‘closure’ of inactive accounts, and retiring long outstanding obligations in relation to the issuance and redemption of Government Securities.”
6. Dr. Singh was central to the sale of state property and the unlawful granting of tax exemptions to the Ramroop group, concessions which have been abused and which any responsible Minister of Finance would revoke. In these transactions, Dr. Singh had not one but three occasions to check the validity, legality and propriety of the transactions: as Minister of Finance, as Chairman of NICIL, and as a senior Cabinet minister. He missed them all.
7. As Minister of Finance, Dr. Singh controls the Consolidated Fund and has allowed the proceeds from the Lottery to be placed in a “special” account outside of the Consolidated Fund. He approves the operations of this extra-ordinarily special account from which only his mentor and protector former President Jagdeo could spend.
8. Dr. Singh was part of a transaction for $4 billion in which there was sufficient evidence to refer Minister of Housing Irfaan Ally for misleading the National Assembly.
9. Dr. Singh has presented five budgets to the National Assembly totaling $627.5 Billion. During that time, we have had no natural disasters or economic shocks undermining the Budget. Yet, during the same period, Dr. Singh has returned to the Assembly with fourteen (14) supplementary appropriation bills covering over 440transactions totaling $67.5 billion – conditions that would embarrass even a mediocre budget controller. For good measure, none of the transactions involving drawings from the Contingencies Fund, covering a minimum of $19.5 billion, was brought within the “next sitting” of the National Assembly timeframe required under section 41 (5) of the FMAA.
10. Dr. Singh has ministerial responsibility for the National Insurance Scheme and the Insurance Act. To him therefore, is due more than a quarter share of the blame in Jagdeo-Dr. Singh-Luncheon-Geeta Singh quartet for the NIS loss of $5 billion in Clico.
11. As Finance Minister Dr. Singh would have known of the mistake that led to the excessive VAT rate of 16%. In order to disguise the effect of the mistake and a windfall of close to twenty billion dollars, he sought supplementary spending provisions of $18 billion (24% of the Budget) in the last two months of 2007! “Brightness” is certainly not the word to describe such shocking conduct. No wonder, neither Dr. Singh nor former President Jagdeo has responded to my several public challenges to them to release an unredacted copy of the report of the Barbadian consultant who was contracted to carry out the exercise. Together Mr. Jagdeo and Dr. Singh have so far gouged the Guyanese taxpayers of more than fifty billion dollars.
12. Dr. Singh exercises professional, personal and private control (PPP/C) of the Audit Office in a manner that is unique to Guyana but inconsistent with the Constitution, the FMAA and the independence rules of the auditing profession, with obvious effect on thequality of the audits. .
As readers would expect, such a letter cannot address all the financial shenanigans hidden in the spending of $627 billion (US$3,135 million) during the last Parliament. Only a thorough investigation initiated by the National Assembly will reveal how the “best and brightest” Dr. Singh and his mentor, that other “best and brightest” Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, have mismanaged the country’s finances for five years while taking the entire country for one inglorious ride.
NOVEMBER 14, 2011 | BY KNEWS | FILED UNDER LETTERS
The defenders of the Former Presidents (Benefits and Other Facilities) Act 2009 including Prime Minister Sam Hinds, Dr. Roger Luncheon, Mr. Robert Persaud and now Dr. Nanda Gopaul are having a hard time trying to convince the Guyanese taxpayer that President Bharrat Jagdeo was less than greedy in initiating and approving legislation providing for benefits that are patently overgenerous.
The best that Mr. Persaud could do was question the timing of the questions, seemingly unaware that as far back as May 2009 Prime Minister Sam Hinds was vainly defending the Act with misrepresentations.
Mr. Hinds incorrectly wrote that all Mr. Jagdeo and his spouse would have is a single vehicle owned and maintained by the State. In fact Mr. Jagdeo is entitled to an unspecified number of such vehicles with drivers.
In addition, Mr. Jagdeo is also entitled to duty free concessions for motor vehicles and every other item he chooses to import. Mr. Hinds would also wish us to believe that free medical expenses are limited to the former president and his spouse. In fact taxpayers would have to pay for the medical costs for him and the dependent members of his family, for the rest of his life. And if Mr. Jagdeo or any one of them elects for treatment abroad, no big deal – the Act places no restriction.
Dr. Luncheon and others have been saying that all the Act did was to put into law payments made to former presidents, completely forgetting that neither Burnham nor Jagan lived to become former presidents.
With a slight twist Dr. Gopaul then tries to confuse the issue by listing eight types of expenses that former presidents were entitled to but fails to state what they actually received which is the real concern over the Act. What Dr. Gopaul seems to miss is what the parliamentary opposition and civil society have been saying all along, i.e. that there are no caps to any of the facilities; no conditions for receipt of benefits and no consideration of cost.
A former president working abroad is still entitled to tax-free pensions and most if not all the benefits and facilities permitted under the Act. And even if resident, s/he is entitled to clerical and technical staff even for private consultancy work, and can run up the most outrageous utilities bill for electricity, telephone and water to be paid for by the state. As drafted, the legislation would seem to impose on the state all the costs where the former president decides to have two or more residences. And we know from the advertisements, our soon-to-be former President is actually constructing on the sprawling state-owned land he awarded himself two houses and a distinctly un-low carbon hot and cold swimming pool for which the monthly electricity bill will easily run to $600,000. We will pay for all of that.
Even while visiting friends, that individual likes to travel with an entourage often consisting of five vehicles and several staff providing security. If he is unwilling or unable to give up such show of power and influence, we the taxpayers will pay for them too, including overtime late into the night.
We may take some comfort in the two services that seem to be limited in number – the gardener, though even that could be circumvented by retaining a landscaping service, and an attendant, presumably to look after the person’s hair, nails and general appearance. And if the soon-to-be former president joins one of his buddies in business or enters in business in name, either on his own account or for their benefit, all the income will be tax-free. This abomination has no parallel or precedent anywhere in the world and is deserving of its own Champion of the World Award.
The menu of benefits and facilities hardly seems what the Constitution intended as payments to former presidents when it states that “A person who has held the office of President shall receive such pension or, upon the expiration of his term of office, such gratuity as may be prescribed by Parliament. Any such pension or gratuity shall be a charge on the Consolidated Fund.”
One is forced to wonder whether the attempts by Hinds, Luncheon and others to confuse the public about the contents and consequences of the Act really show their inability to defend its inherent obscenity. What one does not have to wonder about is the frightening disregard for rules and cost on the one hand, and the interest of self on the other, all symptomatic of how the PPP/C has been managing the financial resources of the country.
Under the theme “Working for a Better Tomorrow”, the PPP/C Manifesto for the 2011 elections is a mix of distortions, mistruths and misrepresentations, wishful thinking or no thinking at all.
The two-page introduction, written by the Presidential candidate Mr. Donald Ramotar seems signally disconnected from the rest of the 43-page document.
Not content with the half-true contents of the Manifesto, Mr. Jagdeo, the PPP/C’s presidential candidate for the past two elections showed that he still does not believe that truth is a virtue. His capacity for inventiveness, make-belief and contempt for the intelligence of his audience guaranteed that he authored the most astounding lie of the Manifesto launch night when he told the audience that the PPP/C Government had only just paid off a US$300 million loan for the PNC’s failed Hydropower project!
Not only was it deception for the Manifesto to choose 1991 as its reference point when the PPP/C was in fact elected in the fourth quarter of 1992, but some of the selected information both then and now are fictitious and or fabricated.
GPL line loss was not 50% in 1991 nor is it less than 30% now (Page 13). GuySuCo does not produce 30 MW of bagasse power at Skeldon – a Wartsila diesel powered engine does –, and the current external debt is not “approximately US$800 million” – unless for the economist Mr. Ramotar and his economic team say that US$800 million and US$1,111 million are “approximately” the same!
The Manifesto boasts of the growth of the economy over the past nineteen years. It does not bother with the inconvenience that a substantial portion of the growth comes from the re-basing of the economy in 2009, an exercise which even a half-decent economist knows makes long-term comparisons meaningless.
Of course it would have been too honest to expect the Manifesto to tell us that the exchange rate of the US Dollar has sunk 65% since 1992; or that the domestic debt has climbed from $18 billion in 1992 to $103 billion at June 30, 2011; or that the cost of electricity was $12 compared with $54 per KW currently; or that greenheart was $85 per board metre compared with $350 now.
Jagdeo and now Ramotar repeat ad nauseum that 96% of revenues was consumed in servicing debt “when they took over”, and it is now four per cent. They should read the 1993 Budget Speech in which the first PPP/C Finance Minister Asgar Ally referred to “scheduled debt service obligation” and not actual debt servicing. And if they look at the 2010 revised figures, they will see that debt-servicing to revenue is not four per cent but 13.3%.
What is also striking is that Mr. Ramotar’s ‘vision’ for the next five years does not add a single new idea to the corruption-laden projects of Jagdeo’s last term. So we have:
1. the expensive and untested Chinese laptops that will run us into billions of dollars;
2. the Amaila hydropower project which will earn us the award for the most expensive hydropower in the world, guaranteeing that electricity rates will remain prohibitively high;
3. the tourism hospital which Jagdeo and his friend will import from India;
4. the Low Carbon Development Strategy that is neither low in carbon nor developmental in nature; and
5. the fibre-optic cable.
Ramotar shows a dangerously limited understanding of democracy and the Constitution when he promises local government elections within one year and “the strengthening of the local government ministry to oversee local government bodies.”
The man seems blissfully unaware that that is the purview of the constitutionally required Local Government Commission which his party in Government has refused to establish and that Article 79 requiring Parliament to provide criteria for allocating resources to the regions has not been given effect to.
Despite our border problems with Chavez’s Venezuela and Bouterse’s Suriname, or the imperative to resile from Jagdeo’s excursions with Kuwait, Libya and Iran, Ramotar does not think that Foreign Policy deserves a mention in 43 pages.
But he dreams that in five years he can transform an education system – known as much for a few exceptions like Ms. Dev as for its drop-outs and the creation of a functionally illiterate population – into one that is “world class and globally competitive.”
That race and race relations for the PPP are the imagination of a few aging malcontents is evident from the failure of the Manifesto to recognise those issues or to acknowledge the International Year for People of African Descent.
One wonders whether the leaders of the private sector in attendance including Clinton Williams, Norman McLean, Ramesh Dookhoo and others noticed that nowhere is the private sector or the manufacturing sector mentioned in the Manifesto. Good for them.
But Labour, too, got no mention and one is left to wonder for how much longer the Jagdeo-Nadir $800 per day minimum wage will drive the pay policy of the PPP/C. No mention of the depressed communities or efforts to stamp out corruption or to integrate the corrupt elements in the informal economy into the tax-paying formal economy.
Governance, too, is treated by omission. And for a man who was nurtured into the ideologically obsessed Marxist PPP, Mr. Ramotar’s Manifesto does not even mention the model of economic philosophy which his Administration will pursue.
Whoever wrote the section of the Manifesto on Information and Communication Technology (page 22) must have been smoking something. How in Edghill’s heaven’s name can Guyana produce 25,000 high-quality jobs over the next five years in computer engineering and software development? Perhaps we will import them from India or China as we will do for our tourism hospital.
Women who make up 51% of the population, Children, the Elderly and the Family get one page in the Manifesto at page 36 that includes a commitment to a comprehensive review of the NIS.
The PPP/C mismanagement of the NIS under the chairmanship of Dr. Roger Luncheon for the past nineteen years has placed the NIS at grave risk with outflows far exceeding inflows – three years earlier than the 2006 Seventh Actuarial Study had feared.
And youth who make up 46% of the voters share one page with Sports and Culture, although culture is noticeably missing in the plans for the next five years.
One can draw analogies from Alice in Wonderland or Aesop’s Fables but perhaps the most appropriate assessment of the PPP/C manifesto was offered by their own former Minister Dr. Henry Jeffrey who told the nation on Plain Talk last Sunday that he could not vote for the PPP/C on the basis of this Manifesto.