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.
I was clean on NICIL’s financial affairs – Winston Brassington
MARCH 7, 2012 | BY KNEWS | FILED UNDER NEWS
…but evidence points to questionable deals
Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL), Winston Brassington, has
justified his stead at the helm of the Privatization Unit.
Brassington chose to respond to queries about his integral role in having established Queens Atlantic Investment Inc (QAII).
Brassington in his missive to the Guyana Times and to the State Media (Guyana Chronicle) said “I have done my job with honesty and integrity and can stand up to whatever scrutiny is brought to bear.”
In 2008 when the illegality of the QAII deal was exposed, his colleague in government transactions, Geoff Da Silva, who headed the Guyana Office for Investment (GO-Invest) in speaking on the deal involving Brassington was forced to admit, “We made a mistake…We thought it was covered in law.”
The forum at which Da Silva made the revelation was “Guyana’s Privatisation and Taxation Policies and Practices” organised by the administration, in retaliation to comments made by local businessman, Dr. Yesu Persaud.
Persaud had said that concessions similar to those granted to QAII should be given to other local companies. This attracted a sharp response from none other than the then Head of State, Bharrat Jagdeo.
According to figures released by the Privatisation Unit, during the hosting of this seminar on Government’s privatisation and taxation policies and practices, between 2003 and 2007, the Guyana Office for Investment (GO-Invest) also granted some 285 companies concessions.
Up to 2002, 14 companies were either partially or totally divested while from 2003 in the second phase of privatization, 26 entities were privatised.
According to a Privatisation Unit report from 2003 there were 99 transactions from 29 Government entities. These were broken down into 26 privatization deals, 46 real estate transactions, and 27 restructuring/wind-up deals.
Of the 26 privatisation transactions, four were not advertised with two of these ending up in an employee sale in the case of Guyana National Newspapers Limited and an employee/management buyout in the case of Surapana Farms.
Of the remaining 22, three were negotiated and finalised after inadequate responses from advertising. These include Linmine and Aroaima Mining Company/Bermine.
Queens Atlantic Investment Inc (QAII) was actually a fourth but the seminar made no mention of the QAII deals in the initial presentations.
According to the Privatisation Unit, while proceeds from Phase 1 were more than $1.1 billion, gross proceeds from Phase Two exceeded $23 billion from privatisation/real estate transactions between the period 1994 and 2007.
At that time, in response to the queries surrounding the QAII investments, Brassington told the seminar that after the Chinese occupancy of the Sanata Textiles Complex in Ruimveldt came to an end in 2006, the government decided to tender for investment proposals.
The advertisements for the proposals were issued in December 2006 and ran until February 2007 after it was extended from January.
He also added that given that there was no suitable response from investors, at that time the government approached QAII to formulate a proposal.
In May 2007, QAII submitted its business proposal which the Privatisation Unit approved that very month. On May 15, 2007 Cabinet approved the lease proposals.
Brassington also admitted that what was advertised and the negotiated deal were different.
Dr. Ranjisingh ‘Bobby” Ramroop
However, to regularize the deal with QAII, the government moved to amend the legislation contained in the Fiscal Enactments Act. This Act was subsequently amended in the National Assembly after several hours of lively debate, especially in the context of the QAII deal involving the Sanata Textile Complex in Industrial Site, Ruimveldt.
“It stinks to high heavens…Officials should all be charged and placed in jail…If a Minister breaks the law then there must be a price to pay,” were some of the sentiments expressed during that debate.
The then shadow Finance Minister, the late Winston Murray, during that debate had pointed out that the legislation only went to the House in the wake of sustained criticism of the grant of the concessions to QAII.
“What is our concern is the granting of concessions that were illegal and had no place in the legal system…this law seeks to cover some aspects that were done outside of the law,” Murray had said.
One of Brassington’s critics, Chartered Accountant and Attorney-At-Law, Christopher Ram, said that if the NICIL boss “is so clean” then these are several simple questions that he should be able to answer easily.
Christopher Ram charged Brassington to inform the nation why it is that the entity has not been filing annual reports or annual tax returns. He sought to get answers also as to why Brassington has not been facilitating the laying of the audited accounts of NICIL in Parliament.
Ram also charged Brassington to say why the agencies which he heads and are under intense scrutiny, have not been keeping their public records up to date.
The accountant said that Brassington sat at the helm of a vehicle that has seen the diversion of state resources away from the Consolidated Funds. These are being utilised in a manner not consistent with the objectives of NICIL, according to Ram.
Brassington also spoke of the Auditor General’s Office being empowered to audit the books of PU/NICIL. The most recent Auditor General Report to be tabled in the House as it relates to NICIL says however: Inventories with a value of $1.177B were not subjected to a physical count at year end and the provision of $943.8M was based on a fixed percentage. (2002).
“Included in receivables due within one year was an amount of $1.323B which represented receivables of the Guyana Oil Company Limited (GUYOIL).”
However, it was noted that no provision was made for the sums of $573.480M and $309.155M,
Representing receivables from GPL and GEC respectively, which were included in the total amount shown. (2002)
Share certificates in support of the amounts shown as Stated Capital in respect of the Bauxite Industry Development Company, Guyana Pharmaceutical Corporation, Guyana National Newspapers Limited for 2009. Share certificates for National Edible Oil Company for both years were not presented for audit examination.
As it relates to privatisation proceeds, between 1994 and 2007, in excess of $23 billion was realised from the privatisation of public companies and real estate. But not all of the monies came directly into the revenue coffers.
Brassington, when asked about the deposit of the $360 million accrued from the sale of a plot of land to John Fernandes Limited, said that the money went to NICIL, a government holding company.
When monies go to the public treasury, Parliament must decide on its release. However, when it goes to another fund, there is no need for Parliamentary intervention.
Only recently, too, while speaking on the issue of Brassington and NICIL, financial point man for A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) and former Finance Minister, Carl Greenidge, who is one of the key architects in establishing the holdings entity, said that NICIL was never meant to be a “slush fund” for the government.
The former Finance Minister was also adamant that APNU will be pushing for an investigation of all NICIL’s operations and especially in relation the disposal of assets in the time of Jagdeo’s Presidency.
He said that one of NICIL’s roles was also to assist the Minister of Finance in formulating policy on how the assets would be managed.
Greenidge was adamant that NICIL was “not envisaged as a slush fund or an entity to hand over state assets to friends, cronies and associates of the PPP party or anyone else…It was supposed to be managing assets in a manner consistent with the national interest.”
Brassington in his missive to the state-controlled media, said that he and the entity he runs have always been open to scrutiny by inter alia, parliamentary bodies.
Immediate past Chairperson of the Public Accounts Committee, Volda Lawrence said that Brassington has never appeared before that committee to provide any explanations on any expenditure.
She pointed out that for an agency to be brought before the PAC for further scrutiny, a report has to be tabled in the House but this was not done for several years.
Carl Greenidge recently warned that “if Mr. Brassington believes that he operated properly within the law then he has nothing to worry about.”
Alliance for Change Khemraj Ramjattan had also warned that Brassington’s resignation from PU/NICIL will not mean he will get off ‘scot-free’ and that he will be called upon to account.
FEBRUARY 29, 2012 | BY KNEWS | FILED UNDER NEWS
Dishonest, vulgar and deceitful are just some of the words members of the wider society are using to describe the government’s contention that its transactions have all been transparent and that there has been no secrecy.
On Saturday, last, the government through its News Agency, issued a statement seeking to lambaste Kaieteur News for its report that the government had signed a secret deal with Ansa McAl of Trinidad and Tobago for 110,000 hectares (approximately 425 square miles) of land in the Canje Basin.
Kaieteur News got wind of this deal through the Trinidad Guardian and insisted that the nation was unaware of the deal between Government and the Trinidad company.
Angry at the Kaieteur News report, the Government Information Agency (GINA) wrote, “The Government of Guyana (GoG) rejects the continued misrepresentation of the Kaieteur News of the various government projects and initiatives which seek to transform the country. The latest being the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Guyana and Ansa Mcal Group on the exploring the possibility of ethanol production in Guyana.(sic)”
“In July 2010, the GoG through public tendering awarded a contract to NUMARK Associates Inc. of the United States for the Service Consultancy to expand Bio Energy Opportunities in Guyana. As part of the Terms of Reference, NUMARK was tasked with compiling a list of potential Bio Energy Investors who may be interested in investing in Guyana.”
But when contacted, Rodrigo Chaparro, Vice President in charge of Sustainable Energy Strategies at NUMARK Associates Incorporated, said that it was tasked with advising on what policies and laws would be needed to create an environment that would attract investments in bio-energy.
The government said, “Based on the NUMARK’s report and the proposals received from investors, ANSA McAl was selected after their proposal was scrutinized by technical experts in the field of Bio Energy, which was subsequently approved and signed on September 30, 2011 and witnessed by representatives of the Government and ANSA McAL.
“To suggest this was a secret deal is not only misleading but a gross misrepresentation of the reality and part of the continued campaign to cast aspersions on the PPP/C Government.”
NUMARK stated that it was made aware through information posted on the web site of the Inter American Development Bank. The people of Guyana would not have been aware of the posting since the general population does not scour the web sites of international organizations.
To further highlight the secrecy of the deal, the government, despite sending its representatives to sign the Memorandum of Understanding with Ansa McAl, never announced that it had completed a Memorandum of Understanding. It also failed to make the signing public either through GINA, Office of the President or by way of press conferences.
The opposition parties were all unaware of this development as was the rest of the nation. The deal was indeed secret. Guyana was made aware through a publication in the Trinidad Guardian, four months after the government said that it signed the Memorandum of Understanding.
And the only response to the disclosure on the part of the government was a GINA statement criticizing the Kaieteur News disclosure of the deal.
The government said that “the impending project to modernize and expand the airport, the plan to construct the Marriott Hotel and the on-going One Laptop per Family project,” were also not secret deals.
“In all of these cases, the accusation of lack of transparency was refuted. All of these projects were developed through a public procurement process. The Government challenges any publication or political group to show where these projects were done in secret and not consistent with our various laws and regulations.”
The nation was made aware of the airport project by way of a publication in the Jamaica Observer long after the signing. After the Kaieteur News publication the government contacted the Jamaica-based headquarters of the Chinese company, China Harbour Engineering Company, contracted to expand the runway and modify the airport terminal building.
The spokesperson for China Harbour Engineering, one day after the Kaieteur News publication, duly referred all queries to the Guyana Government. Public Relations Officer of CHEC in Jamaica, Jennifer Harmon, said that she was asked by her company not to reveal any more information about the project and that in fact her decision to reveal the signing to the Jamaica Observer was ill-advised.
She said that the Guyana Government would release any information to the media.
The project was not open to bidding, since no such advertisement was placed on the government’s procurement website under the Ministry of Public Works through which the airport is administered.
Further, it was only in August 2011, Regional Director of CHEC, Zhongdong Tang, said that the company had a team in Guyana, and other countries, “looking for opportunities.” But GINA stated that the project was first announced “several months” ago.
Former President Bharrat Jagdeo when confronted disclosed never before heard details of the project.
The Marriott Hotel deal was another that the nation learnt through a foreign media. So too was the talk with the Grenada-based Zublin. Head od the Privatisation Unit, Winston Brassington was livid that Zublin released details of its talk with the government.
There were many other secret deals. One was for an Indian company for land in Guyana. Guyanese learnt of this through India Times. Among others were the Sanata Complex, MovieTowne and the land distribution process to housing developers.