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.
By STABROEK STAFF | 4 COMMENTS | LETTERS | THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2012
At elections the people vote for leaders to run the affairs of the nation in the interest of every citizen. The electorate entrusts that power to the individuals whom they expect will make their lives better. When it is observed that those entrusted with that power are using it just to amass wealth for themselves and their associates – building Prado 1 and Prado 2 – whilst the majority of the people are suffering due to lack of essential social amenities and the rise in crime, then people with conscience will rise up and challenge these charlatans’ unconscionable behaviour.
Freddie (Kissoon) has been one of these voices of conscience exposing and challenging all forms of devious behaviour by those in power. They obviously dislike him for his struggle for fairness and justice at all levels in our country. So it is only the simple minded who will accept the reason being put forward by the PPP/C-choked up University Council, and the government.
In 1982 the then University of Guyana Council voted not to renew my contract and that of Mike McCormack. I learnt that the University Vice Chancellor, Professor Dennis Irvine, asked the council to give the reason for the decision, whether it was academic—to which the council gave a negative reply. Dr Irvine asked that it be “minuted“ that the decision not to renew my contract was not based on my academic performance and the next day he wrote me a letter of recommendation in case I was looking for another job. It was rumoured that the reason was because I was a member of the WPA. After some protests, the University Council changed its mind and I was privileged to continue serving at the University of Guyana until August 2004.
The irony is that some of those who protested at my dismissal on political grounds in 1982 are now in power and using the same weapons as their predecessor to remove Freddie Kissoon. This makes one wonder—thirty years later—where is the change?
In 2012, with the wave of demand for political and social justice for the masses sweeping everywhere, Guyanese are too intelligent to remain mired down by the ignorant and outdated policy of party allegiance alone and nothing else. Mr Kissoon’s case is the first test of what can be expected from the new government. We must refuse to accept wrongful dismissal anywhere. The University Council can and must rescind its decision on Freddie Kissoon.
The cycle of abuse of power and victimization must stop. It is totally out of place in the world we live in today.
Former President of the
University of Guyana Workers Union
Sunday, March 23rd 2008
I refer to a letter in your Good Friday edition by Minister Clement Rohee. It is an evaluation of the politics of Tacuma Ogunseye. I have adopted a policy that once Mr Rohee writes on the politics of this land, I will reply even if I am on my sick bed. It is important that those who care about Guyana and want to stop its gradual destruction by the PPP in a wanton display of political immorality that has exceeded the autocracy of Forbes Burnham, should inform the Guyanese people about this crass display of hypocrisy. Mr Rohee has armed himself with a pugnacious attitude, meaning that despite the ocean of venalities that the PPP is swimming in he will fight back and argue that there is proper government in this land. Even before the ink is dried on his letters, those of us who fought for the post 1968 freedoms of this country should not let political “has beens” like Mr Rohee fool our young people
The caption you gave Mr. Rohee’s letter I found to be an advantage in my response here. It is titled “Mr. Ogunseye’s approach in rejecting compromise and realpolitik as reflected in the day to day struggle for a better Guyana leaves the political arena open to the worst elements in our midst.” Your title is actually taken from a paragraph of Mr. Rohee’s letter. It shows the superficial understanding of political concepts by Mr Rohee and reminds us of the time he confused Dominica and the Dominican Republic when he addressed the UN in his capacity as Foreign Minister. Why he was not demoted after that humongous and unforgivable lapse shows the nature of Cheddi Jagan. Mr. Rohee totally misunderstands what “realpolitik” means But let’s move on to more substantial dimensions of this letter.
Sadly, Mr. Ogunseye’s politics has morphed into extremist forms. In the days of the WPA, Mr. Ogunseye acquired the status of a respected freedom fighter. Mr. Rohee and I owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Ogunseye. He fought long and hard in an endeavour that not even Cheddi Jagan could match. What has happened to Mr. Ogunseye is that he watched as Mr. Rohee, Mr. Jagdeo, Mrs. Jagan and the rest of the PPP leaders took his efforts, those of the WPA and so many of us and destroyed the values that returned to Guyana after the long struggle against Burnham. I am not excusing the extremist politics of Mr. Ogunseye. In that sense he betrayed Walter Rodney. If Ogunseye reads the recent speech on race by Barack Obama he probably would back off of his present doctrinaire position. Listening to Obama was as if Walter Rodney was speaking
Few political analysts would deny the process of African marginalization under the PPP. The need to diminish the “other side” is a tragic game the PNC and the PPP have played while in power. PPP ministers like Rohee know that African marginalization is the terrifying reality that may bring down the PPP, thus the frenetic, Pavlovian urge to reject the existence of the process whenever it is spoken of by opposition forces. The really sad thing about the PNC and PPP is that they are hopelessly trapped in the race game where the “other side” has to be weakened. It is in this context that I feel uncomfortable with the concept “marginalization.” I prefer the term “racial discrimination” because marginalization has a deliberate ring to it that I do not believe existed in the minds of the PNC leaders from 1968 to 1985 when Burnham died. And since 1992 in the PPP. When you refer to marginalization, you seem to wipe away the fundamental error in the political culture of the PPP and PNC, and that is they have to practice racial discrimination because it is the only way they can keep their constituencies intact. The tragedy of Guyana is that if the PNC returns, the East Indians will be diminished. The tragedy of Guyana is that once the PPP stays in power, the African communities will be neglected. For Guyana to develop, it has to go beyond the PNC and PPP. The African people did that after Burnham became totally intolerable. It is time now for the East Indians to reject the PPP
I believe the rule of the PPP has degenerated in forms that are worse than under Forbes Burnham. In my recent UG seminar (that causes so much questionable controversy elsewhere) I delineated four areas where the decay has become more frightening than under Burnham. They are: first, the labyrinth connecting the drug people and powerful members of the political establishment. It has certainly alarmed the Americans but the Americans have deliberately eschewed the exertion of pressure on the Guyana Government out of fear that if it falls, the vacuum may bring too many uncertainties that may have dire consequences for the region. Satisfied that it got Roger Khan, the Americans have eased the heat on the government. This unsavoury connection has spawned a group of rich people that have become more powerful than the government and the security forces. They are virtually the kings of Guyana. And they are buying up the country.
Secondly, Guyana must be the only society in the world where the children of the political controllers of the state have used state resources as if they own them. This is part of the degeneracy of the PPP that cries out for research. Burnham would not have allowed this. The wives and children of Burnham’s elite circle worked in ordinary jobs. Elvin Mc David’s wife was a junior teacher at St. Roses High School. An investigation would show that the children of PPP and governmental leaders have creamed off fantastic state jobs most of which are funded by international agencies. There is the absurdity where one of these children is being paid three thousand American dollars a month for a job in which she has not even a day’s training. They have now moved into property and land ownership. If the PPP stays in power for ten more years, there will be no more state lands. They will either be given away or sold to party people.
Thirdly, it is highly unlikely that Forbes Burnham would have tolerated the corruption monster that has devoured the Jagdeo Government. Surely, Guyana under the present regime has emerged as the worst corrupt regime in the history of British, French and Dutch West Indies.
Fourth and finally, there may have emerged in the leadership of this government an element of racism that I do not think was ever as determined and poisonous under Burnham. If the Indian group in the PNC like Teekah, Chandisingh, Shahabudeen, Ramsaroop, Pandit Sharma and others had complained to Burnham about African racism directed against them, Burnham would have been livid. In the PPP, open racists are openly embraced. Rohee ought to know that if any thing is certain about Guyana it is its uncertain future.
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There is absolutely no question in my mind that after more than 19 years of PPP rule and 10 years of elected dictatorship, Guyana has emerged as a failed state. When Mr. Jagdeo assumed power, he did not have a clue of how to govern the affairs of the country. The bequeathing power to him by Mrs. Jagan on that rainy morning was a tragic mistake.
No one can predict the future but maybe, the rain could be interpreted as if God was shedding tears for what was to happen to this beloved country.
Mr. Jagdeo’s horrible performance as president and his erratic and irrational “cuss down” outbursts are unbecoming of a president. He has embarrassed the presidency and the nation. It proved that Mrs. Jagan took a man’s job and handed it to a little boy.
His child-like behaviour is not only evident in his berserk “cuss down” episode last Sunday of Glenn Lall, Adam Harris and Kaieteur News but also when he said that Mr. Ramotar, at age 61, is a young man but that Mr. Granger at age 65 is a very old man. This is a very foolish and unbefitting statement coming from a president. It shows that he does not know what constitutes old or young.
Several senior members of the PPP are shocked and disgusted at Mr. Jagdeo’s behaviour. They are quietly exiting the PPP for a civilian life. Guyanese are concerned about the reckless behaviour and lack of morality of Government officials, the breakdown of law and order and the atrocities carried out by the PPP regime.
Mr. Jagdeo’s rigid control of the state apparatus, the state-owned television and radio stations, his delay in propagating the Information Act, his twisted way of cussing down people, his use of the PPP majority to make Parliament a farce, his trumped-up charges of treason against Mark Benschop and others, his refusal to have an inquiry into the extra-judicial murders of over 300 Guyanese, and the acquisition of highly paid propagandists like Prem Misir and the vanished Randy Persaud are similar to the actions of Hitler.
The regime has the entrenched and intrinsic belief in ethnic and racial superiority. It does not have a national policy based on racial equality, harmony, the co-existence of the races, and the fair and equitable distribution of the benefits of the state resources.
Instead, the elected dictatorship has a sinister and inept strategy to subjugate one race and render it servile.
Mr. Jagdeo has not shown any interest in promoting unity, harmony and equality among the races. He is more inclined to use the country’s resources as he sees fit, spend taxpayers’ money in a reckless manner, ignore corrupt practices by government officials and is yet to charge a major drug dealer.
Glenn Lall, owner of Kaieteur News, is correct when he said that “It’s is thiefing that going on from top to bottom in the country. I don’t believe in thiefing the ordinary man, taxpayers’ dollars.”
More reasons why Guyanese are worst off today than 10 years ago? We are in the 21st century and there are constant power outages nationwide, lack of adequate potable water, mothers and babies are dying at childbirth, truancy rates at schools are extremely high, PPP untouchables continue to disrespect the rule of law, taxpayers do not get value for money spent on public projects, 45 per cent of the youths are unemployed, Georgetown stinks, UG has
collapsed for lack of funds, public hospitals and schools have crumbled, the future of GUYSUCO is in doubt, wages have remained stagnant while cost of living has risen to the sky, and the roads are the worst they have been in years.
In addition, more than 80 per cent of the population lives in poverty while Pradovilles are popping up everywhere and PPP untouchables have coveted the best lands in the country. Guyanese are worst off today than ten years ago because the elected dictatorship governs the country like a cake shop.
If these are considered development, then we should find a new meaning for the word “development.”
And one more thing, Bharat, do not blame Glenn Lall, Adam Harris and Kaieteur News for the horrendous state Guyana is in. Unlike you and your cabal, they are decent citizens trying to make an honest living by working hard everyday.
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.
By ARIF BULKAN | 0 COMMENTS | IN THE DIASPORA | MONDAY, NOVEMBER 7, 2011
Arif Bulkan teaches human rights law at the University of the West Indies in Barbados.
What would an honest evaluation of the Jagdeo Presidency reveal? Its genesis lay in naked constitutional manipulation, for in the 1997 general elections Bharrat Jagdeo had not been elected as President or Prime Minister by the People. Thus when Janet Jagan disclosed in August 1999 that she could no longer continue as President due to her declining health, Jagdeo’s succession was contrived through a circuitous route. First, Sam Hinds was required to resign so that Jagdeo could be sworn in as Prime Minister on August 9th, and this was followed by Janet Jagan’s resignation and Jagdeo’s assumption of the Presidency on August 11th. This process gave fair warning to the Guyanese people of how slender national ‘democracy’ was, for in a country where one party has a stranglehold on power, the only hope of forestalling imperial rule is if that party’s internal structure has processes and mechanisms by which its leader(s) can be held accountable. But Jagdeo was a handpicked successor, revealing the imperial nature of the power possessed by the head of the ruling party and that party’s fundamentally undemocratic nature. More troubling was that his installation in office required the circumvention of the supreme law of the land, but this did not seem to give the PPP as an institution any cause for discomfort. All this was an ominous portent of things to come. Janet Jagan may have thought that she was installing a puppet – but just as she was able to exercise maximum power as President, so too was her creation eventually able to function, uncontainable even by her (there’s a lesson there for Jagdeo and Ramotar, but that’s another story).
Back in 1999, a battered electorate gave little thought to PPP intrigue, despite the very public manner in which events unfolded. Jagdeo’s youth represented a refreshing antidote to the old guard and party loyalists, and his selection on the eve of the millennium could have been taken to herald both literal and symbolic rebirth. And to be fair, in the intervening twelve years there have been instances where Jagdeo has demonstrated solid leadership – notably in the principled stand he took with regard to the Economic Partnership Agreement being forced down the region’s throats by the European Union, despite the considerable opposition of his counterparts in CARICOM. Sadly, however, for the most part Jagdeo’s rule has been a bitter disappointment, where any initial promise was quickly extinguished by an autocratic, intolerant, vindictive, incompetent and verbally abusive style of governance. I could go on, for there are many negative adjectives which can be used to describe Jagdeo’s presidency, but when I saw the photograph taken of the President at the India Day parade in New York City, I thought that it said it all.
This week’s column will focus on two prominent features of his presidency symbolised in the photograph: 1) the way in which he has consistently indulged himself, the public purse be damned, and 2) the way in which he has materially indulged his cronies, again without regard for the public purse.
Jagdeo’s personal financial dealings need little recounting. As I pointed out in an earlier column, the sale of his first state-subsidized house and land in Goedverwagting at a price that far exceeds market value and to Guyana’s consul in Trinidad and Tobago is one that reeks of impropriety and would have been immediately investigated in any functioning democracy.
Immediately after this sale Jagdeo acquired more state-subsidized lands, but at a price far below market value. A number of irregularities surrounded this second transaction: the President obtained more than 4 times the amount of land a re-migrant can purchase; he paid barely one-sixth of what a re-migrant would have had to pay; and the allocation to him was made by Cabinet in violation of standard policies that state-subsidized land is only to be distributed to persons who do not own or have not owned property in the previous 5 years. Most obscene of all, as pointed out by Bro. Eusi Kwayana, the lands awarded to the President form part of a post-emancipation village. That many of the descendants of those first villages still live in squatting areas while the choicest lands built through the sweat of working people are reserved for Jagdeo and his cabal of supporters, is a monstrous injustice.
It then emerged that 29 tons of building material was shipped to Jagdeo from alleged criminal Ed Ahmad. Mr. Ahmad has other unsavoury antecedents – in the US he “loaned” money to Congressman Meeks, which was only re-paid when the authorities commenced an investigation. Sometime before (or after) Ahmad sent the container of building material to the President, he secured lands from Guysuco on the West Bank. We will have to do the math, because unlike in the US, there will be no official investigation into these events.
Then it has been reported that on each trip abroad, Jagdeo receives a US$5,000 (G$1 million) out-of-pocket allowance over and above the funding for the trip, for which he does not have to account. Compare that to the minimum wage of G$35,000 per month and Guyana today is like France under the Bourbons (of the ‘let them eat cake’ period).
Then there is the presidential pension, which will afford Jagdeo a life of post-retirement luxury. How the $3 million monthly figure has been computed is a mystery to me. Under the law passed by Jagdeo’s minions in parliament many of the benefits are uncapped, so the cost to the taxpayer could conceivably exceed $3m given the standards presently exhibited.
A key feature of the Jagdeo Presidency is the majestic enrichment of a select cabal of his supporters. The examples are endless.
1.The recently released report of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee reveals major irregularities in public spending for the 2 years it reviewed (2007-8), including overpayments to contractors and payment to contractors for work that was not completed. It is public knowledge that the vast majority of national infrastructural works are awarded to a select few contractors. The latest in a long string of examples is the award to a favoured contractor, BK International, of a $138 million contract for upgrading the Supenaam stelling. This comes less than 2 years after BK drew down more than $400 million for work on the same stelling that was completely botched, leaving it unusable for over 2 years. In other words, the same company is being given more money for a job that it already bungled, when in the normal course of business it should be sued and ordered to repay or finish the job properly.
2. Or consider the case of the single-sourcing of drugs from New GPC by the Ministry of Health. This has been going on since 1997, and after 2003 in direct violation of the Public Procurement Act. Since 2003 the practice has been facilitated, arguably unlawfully, by Cabinet decision. Between 2003 and 2008, it resulted in over G$3 BILLION for New GPC. Single-sourcing of any good means that the purchase price may not be competitive, and as if that were not irregular enough, it was revealed in Parliament that the drugs were paid for up front – in other words, Guyanese taxpayers funded the company’s operations, something absolutely unheard of in business. To add insult to injury, New GPC’s parent company then turned around and loaned money for the construction of the Berbice River bridge at between 9-11% interest, which interest will not be taxed! As is well known, New GPC is a subsidiary of the Queens Atlantic (QA II) group of companies owned by the Ramroop family, one member of which is a close friend of none other than Jagdeo himself.
3. The same QA II was illegally granted certain tax concessions by the Jagdeo administration. When Mr. Yesu Persaud spoke of these concessions at the launching of Guyana Times on June 5th 2008, he was publicly attacked by the President. Later, when accountant & attorney Chris Ram exposed the administration’s lies on this point, the Jagdeo government hurriedly passed a law to retroactively legitimize their earlier, unlawful act.
4. In 2009 Fidelity Investment evaded taxes and customs duties in excess of $321 million, but even though customs officers raided their premises and found over 73,000 cases of Polar beer for which the company could provide no import documents, the case against the company was discontinued by the State with no explanation given to the special prosecutor or to the public at large.
5. Earlier this year the one laptop per family project was announced, but in the public domain there was much inconsistency regarding its cost as announced by the government. Worse, a price to be paid for each laptop was announced, even though the tender process had not even been commenced.
6. The Amaila Falls hydro-electricity project has been dogged by similar concerns over the cost of the project and the lack of transparency surrounding the bidding process. All that is known to the public at this stage is that there is a US$200 million gap in the actual cost of construction and the original estimate given (the latter has since increased by another US$135 million, making that gap now US$335 million). Where or to whom is that extra money going?
7. Earlier this year the government leased almost 2 million acres of land to a businessman from India for 30 years at G$394 (yes, a little less than two US dollars per acre). Again, this lease was not the subject of a transparent or competitive bidding process, and Guyanese do not know what other benefits attend the deal. Does it attract special tax concessions? How come the company is reportedly being allowed to export species for which there are existing bans in the law?
One can continue to list the secretive and scandalous deals by this government, but the underlying features are similar. Principally, key oversight institutions have been either run into the ground by the government or are simply not functioning. Anand Goolsarran, who as Auditor General brought many irregularities to light, was run out of office in 2004 when he attempted to investigate a dolphin scandal involving the President’s adviser. Since then, the vacancy left by Dr. Goolsarran’s departure has not been permanently filled, so even were the incumbent minded to act courageously the precariousness of the position is an obvious impediment. The government refuses to appoint a Public Procurement Commission, which means that there is no transparency in and scrutiny of the procurement of goods and services and the execution of public works. This state of affairs facilitates overpayment and shoddy performance. Most of the beneficiaries of this largesse tend to be friends and associates of the President, hence the charge of cronyism. Where foreigners are involved, the deals are invariably negotiated in secret. The end result is the stifling of competition, a higher cost of living, and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a favoured few.
Add this up and the picture is clear. Notwithstanding the low salaries, unlivable pensions and general impoverishment of most Guyanese, President Jagdeo shamelessly grabs whatever he can for himself (and his chosen friends) – lands, container of goods, lavish US dollar allowances, overseas trips, maids, gardeners and pension for life – wherever he is, and irrespective of who is looking on. In next week’s column I will conclude by examining the intolerance and decay that, taken together with the cronyism, characterise Jagdeo’s 12 year period of rule.