The PPP on trial
OCTOBER 8, 2012 | BY KNEWS | FILED UNDER LETTERS
Some in the PPP like to claim how effective the government is, even when little or no evidence of such exists. Moreover, when challenged to provide proof, they create the context, and in some instances turn to propaganda and distortions to justify their self-assessed effectiveness with a view to persuade the masses about how hard they have been toiling on their behalf.
And even when the Jagdeo/Ramotar regime is drowning in their own manufactured hogwash, they become so immune to it that they are not bothered or shaken by the views of the opposition or by the sentiments and perceptions of the people.
This kind of stubbornness and narcissistic behaviour by the PPP regime is bordering on being insensitive to the needs of the youths and the poor and the working class.
The Jagdeo/Ramotar PPP regime is on trial because they have displayed a sense of heartlessness toward the youths and the poor and the working class in Guyana. Based on their actions, we are convinced that the PPP cabal is completely removed from the reality that exists beyond the glass casing that separates them from the masses they pretend to serve.
The truth is that even on their best days their pretence is so obnoxious that they drive away their own supporters in droves. It is indisputable that this type of behaviour by the Jagdeo/ Ramotar regime is predictable and reactive as if they are at a Grand Opera.
The PPP regime has shown total contempt for Parliament and the combined opposition in that the Attorney General Anil Nadalall has not only challenged the no-confidence motion against the Minister of Home Affairs Mr. Rohee in the courts but he and the PPP cabal have also distorted the decision of the Chief Justice Ian Chang in the budget case to mislead the public.
The opposition is aware of this but they have done nothing to prevent the Minister of Finance Ashni Singh from using the Contingency Funds to pay the contract workers at the Office of the President.
The majority opposition must end their lackadaisical posture and stand up and represent the people as Sharma Solomon and Vanessa Kissoon did at Linden. We believe that if the people of Linden had waited for APNU to represent them in the manner Solomon and Kissoon did, they would have waited in vain because it was the leaders of APNU who in April cut backroom deals with the PPP to increase the electricity rates at Linden that led to the protest and the subsequent murders of three unarmed young men.
For one reason, the opposition parties need plenipotentiaries to coordinate their policies and to maintain the same or similar line of argument/criticism against the PPP. For another, both the AFC and APNU should start the process of developing a shadow budget in order to have an estimated amount of the cost of next year’s budget.
It is our understanding that the PPP intends to bloat the budget in excess of $40 billion with the expectation that the opposition will cut part of that amount and still leave them with the required amount needed for fiscal year 2013. And the leader of the Parliamentary opposition who prides himself as a security Czar is yet to present a security plan/bill to Parliament.
The minority PPP-led government has had enough time to improve the standard of living in Guyana but they have failed to demonstrate to the masses that they are the stewards who are worthy of their trust. The regime has had enough time to formulate an economic development plan to create employment for the youths and those willing to work, a crime prevention program, an Anti-Corruption Agency to reduce corruption, and an educational curriculum to shrink the failures at examinations. But so far, the Jagdeo/Ramotar regime has not even come close of achieving any of the above. In fact, the Minister of Education Priya Manickchand should stop masquerading over inconsequential issues such as the flogging of students and focus on the bigger issue of reducing failures to a minimum.
It may appear to Mr. Ramotar and his government that things are hunky-dory, but nothing could be further from the truth—times are extremely hard for the youths and the poor and the working class who are at their wits end to put food on the table. The Jagdeo/Ramotar regime should know by now that the clock is ticking, the tension is building and the poor and the working class are about to explode under the enormous pressure.
These are tough times. Crime and violence, narcotics trafficking and corruption are on the upswing, unemployment continues to rise to new heights, real wages have declined, frustration and misery are peaking, and yet the government seems clueless as to the seriousness and extensiveness of the plight of the poor and the working class. Still, some in the PPP and their wealthy friends appear to live so comfortable that one wonders which country they live in.
In conclusion, for those who continue to harbour doubts about which political party we support, one thing remains clear: we are not beholden to any party. We shall always be guided by truth and honesty. And while we do not aspire to assume any meaningful role, we remain grounded in our conviction and steadfast love for Guyana, sufficient to declare that any criticisms of the opposition are not that we love them less, but that we love Guyana and Guyanese more. Our conscious is our guide.
Dr. Asquith Rose and Harish S. Singh
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.
“In this country, men believe that they can break the law and do whatever it is that they like because those who are close to the government have been able to get away with it”- APNU MP Carl Greenidge
The National Assembly will meet tomorrow to debate whether it should approve some $5.7B which
has been expended from the Contingencies Fund during the last quarter of 2011, but despite the opposition believing that the money was utilised illegally, they may have no option but to vote in agreement.
This however does not mean that it will be business as usual for the Government as it relates to the Supplementary Provisions and Finances in General.
Former Finance Minister and Executive Member of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) Carl Greenidge, in an exclusive interview with this publication, signaled that come Thursday when the issue comes up for debate, the opposition will be pushing a gamut of measures, including police action.
Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh on Friday last tabled the Financial Papers and signalled to the Speaker that he would like to have the consideration done this Thursday.
The Opposition will however have to vote for its approval, given the fact that should they vote negatively, the Contingencies Fund will not be able to be replenished to the tune of some $5.7B.
For several years now, the Opposition Parties in the House have been lamenting the manner in which the money is being used.
According to the Auditor General, the Contingencies Fund continues to be abused, with withdrawals that do not fit the criteria for the related disbursements.
Greenidge explained to this publication that the request represents two different categories, namely some for moneys already spent and another to pay for commitments made that were not previously paid for.
He explained that a supplementary provision is simply an additional request for a previous allocation, but stressed that it has to be for an emergency purpose.
Greenidge says that the Finance Minister, when he goes to Parliament, is supposed to explain to the House, in detail, how and why the money was spent, and what the urgency was.
He asserted that a supplementary provision is supposed to be used in unavoidable cases, where if the administration did not make the expenditure, then there would be irreparable damage to the system.
The Former Finance Minister pointed out that the Contingencies Fund operates akin to an impress or petty cash – as float money that can be accessed by the administration providing the requisite criteria are met.
“What the government does is write cheques against a Contingencies Fund. That Contingencies Fund is only supposed to be tapped into in these (urgent or unavoidable) circumstances.”
He reiterated that if there was no previous allocation made, such as for a road programme or capital expenditure such as the purchase of a building – then the administration ought not to be able to make a “draw down” for such expenditure.
“You have to wait until the next year,” Greenidge explained.
He questioned the motivation behind some of the expenditure for which approval is being sought, drawing particular reference to the purchase of ferries.
In the Supplementary Provision sought by Dr Singh, there is expenditure for the Ministry of Public Works and Communication, which received an additional $2.6B in addition to $366M already received for the acquisition of two ferries.
Greenidge explained that the Chinese delivered both of the vessels early, “and yet there is a request for funds to pay.”
He stressed that it is not a case where the Parliament has to approve this expenditure, but he also gave clarity to the issue with respect to its being float money.
Greenidge explained that when moneys are spent from that which is allocated as a float and there is an absence of necessary documentation to show that the money was spent legitimately, “then the float can’t be replenished.”
“The Parliament does not have to approve this expenditure, and could take action which requires that the officials responsible for carrying out the expenditure, if it is deem it illegal, are surcharged.”
The Former Finance Minister explained that a request can be made of the Auditor General to investigate and call in the police.
Greenidge explained that APNU’s position will be to “ensure that the request that is laid before us is consistent with the law.”
He reminded that the law requires that the Minister provide certain information as it relates to the expenditures, as against the traditional vague answers that were provided.
He added that APNU is in talks with the Alliance for Change, and they are in agreement that the gross violations of the laws on the part of the administration must stop.
Greenidge said that in previous years it was not a case where the opposition voted in favour of the numerous Supplementary Provisions sought, but rather, it was a case where the government had a majority in Parliament which would mean that regardless of the concerns raised by the opposition, the Parliament would approve the expenditures.
“The problem has been that the government had a majority and therefore had enough votes for it not to matter what the opposition said.”
He also lamented the confinement of the Auditor General.
“The Office of the Auditor General has essentially been held captive, meaning that where they should properly identify illegality they identify some and leave others…and where action should have been taken against officers, action was not taken.”
This, he said, was the case, as “having persuaded people to break the law, people believed that the presidency can protect them.”
“The officials felt that they could have continued to break the laws forever, but what you see has happened in late 2011 has served to surprise the government.”
Greenidge pointed to the fact that regardless of the fact that the laws have been broken for 20 years by the administration, should the system be tightened, then the same laws can hold officials accountable.
He stressed that as long as the systems in place are tightened, then there is no way those officials can say that they have been doing the same thing for years in an attempt to negate the illegality.
Greenidge is certain that some of the money for which the present request covers needs to be investigated, and he added that “a good deal of it took place around the time of the elections.”
He suggested that the money has been used for other things, saying that “this is a massive amount spent around the election period”.
“All the parties have been complaining. Civil society has been complaining. Even in India there are laws against carrying out expenditures and signing agreements so close to elections. But they (PPP) have gone ahead and done it because they are powerful,” said Greenidge who opined that the ruling administration believed that they would have won the election outright leaving the opposition with little or no recourse.
“Where the law is weak or unclear we want it tightened,” Greenidge emphasized, while stating that the opposition will be pushing for amendments to the relevant pieces of legislation to have Ministers held accountable also.
“In other countries where there are violations on the part of Ministers they resign, but this is not the case in Guyana. In this country, men believe that they can break the law and do whatever it is that they like, because those who are close to the government have been able to get away with it.”
Under the expenditures for which approval will be sought, under the Office of the Prime Minister’s Electrification Programme an additional $491.6M was sought in addition to the more than $6B already allocated.
The Office of the President was also advanced some $25.5M for National and Other Events, and according to the Financial Paper, the money is a provision for expenditure associated with the conferment of National Awards and other events hosted by the State. This is in addition to the $8.7M already allocated to the Office of the President for such expenditures.
At the Office of the Prime Minister, approval is being sought for in excess of $1.5B expenditure in addition to $100M already allocated for Subsidies and Contributions to Local Organization.
The Financial Paper explains that the money is a provision for additional subsidy to the Lethem Power Company ($33.7M) and the Guyana Power and Light ($1.5B) for the purchase of fuel for its continued operations.
The Guyana Police Force is also listed for a range of activities related to the 2011 General and Regional Elections, including $4M to pay the rental for radio sets as well as an additional $90.6M for feeding rural constables who worked on Election Day as well as inline police ranks and intensified patrols.
Alliance For Change Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan is on record as saying “While it is alright for the Government to spend moneys from the Contingencies Fund and then seek approval after, the supplementary provisions that are sought for each year demonstrate the fact that the budget every year is deceitful.”
Assented to by former President Bharrat Jagdeo, the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act stipulates that “The Minister, when introducing a supplementary appropriation Bill, shall present to the National Assembly the reasons for the proposed variations and provide a supplementary document describing the impact that the variations, if approved, will have on the financial plan outlined in the annual budget.”
The Act also stipulates that: The Minister shall not, in any fiscal year, introduce more than five supplementary appropriation Bills under this section, except in circumstances of grave national emergency, where the Minister may introduce a Bill, intituled an emergency appropriation Bill, to meet the situation.”
The Bill to be debated tomorrow represents the seventh and eight requests made by the Finance Minister.