The government, NICIL and other controversies
This past week the media reported on a series of events. There was the report on the construction of a new airport replacing the current facility that operates as the Cheddi Jagan International Airport. I have been using that airport for some time and I have seen the changes.
I travelled through that airport for the first time in 1988 en route to Jamaica. It was not much to shout about, but it was what this country had to offer. People who have been coming to the country had a most difficult time in terms of physical comfort when they entered the immigration section.
Over time there were improvements. Millions of dollars were spent to improve just about every section. State-of-the-art booths were installed at the immigration section. Air conditioning and just about everything to ensure creature comforts were installed.
Then there was work on the departure lounge. The airport had come from the days when two flights landed and sometimes one. Flights were a constant feature to the extent that at times there were as many as three international flights boarding for departure. This was a most confusing time and people are now saying that flights were delayed, because the departure lounge simply could not process the volume of passengers.
Now there is a plan to bulldoze the entire operation. There is also a plan to extend the runway so that larger aircraft can land. This is indeed something good for Guyana, except I do not see the massive influx of people that the government anticipates. These people are supposed to come from Africa and Asia. There was never an inclination on the part of these people to come, so I do not see them coming now.
Of course, if oil comes then there is no telling how many people would be using the airport and the feeling is that there will be oil, but not in a hurry.
The media began to focus on this airport on which the government had spent US$30 million not so long ago. At the same time there was the revelation that a study had been done for a rehabilitated airport. The study indicated that it had been done for the government, but the government said that it never commissioned any study and surely, it never paid for any.
This then became a talking point. The government was angry at the suggestion that it had commissioned an airport study and it was denying this suggestion. The Canadian High Commission has since responded that the company was certainly not Canadian.
“On the front page of your newspaper today there was an article about a supposedly “Canadian” company called Unimac. We have never dealt with them at the High Commission and are trying to confirm its origin as it is not in our corporate databases at the High Commission or in those in our Toronto Regional office. Any background you could help us identify the principles would be helpful.”
This was most revealing. Surely there were people who thought that they could pull a fast one over the Guyana Government. I am not surprised at the turn of events. It would be interesting to know who funded the study. If the government did not, then the people who presented themselves as Unimac must have some resources.
In the end, the media found out that the two men registered their company locally. They also found out that the company no longer exists. Had there been no publication of the study, the nation would never have understood why the new airport deal is of such concern.
The next thing that caught the eye was the NICIL funds. There have been charges and countercharges to the extent that I am hopelessly confused. NICIL says that it has a right to hold on to its money; the parliamentarians say that the money should be deposited into the Consolidated Fund.
I cannot understand how an entity that collects funds from the disposal of Government assets would believe that it could hold on to those funds and behave as though the money is a slush fund. The government has been using every communication facility at its disposal to justify the decision to hold on to the money.
Of course, such funds can help a government pick up any shortfall without parliamentary approval. I now hear that the government is using that money to part fund the construction of the Marriott. This too is a controversial project.
People simply do not see the need for a hotel at a time when other hotels are struggling to fill their rooms. There is also another hotel that the government is trying to sell. Would it not have made sense to put in some money and bring that hotel up to the standard that it is seeking?
These controversies have been fuelling the media, and the government is busy chasing just about every charge leveled against it. There was a time when the government could not care less. It had parliamentary majority. Today, the political dispensation is that the government must really explain every action.
There are those who are so accustomed to the dictatorship of government that they want to see a return to the status ante. The society is saying that what is operating now is the best thing in the interest of the country. And the media are simply executing their role as the nation’s watchdog.
Now there is another issue—one of conflict of interest. Again the main character is the person who is at the centre of the NICIL issue—Winston Brassington. He is said to have sold some assets once under his control but with which he has been integrally involved, to another company. Then his brother enters and buys some of those assets. Was the company asked to keep these assets in some form of escrow until the dust settled?
Of interest too, is that the company that bought the assets is headed by Brassington’s very good friend.
Brassington says that he sought legal advice about any possible conflict of interest. I am not clear whether he got any response, but in his book he has done nothing wrong. I beg to disagree; especially since he once had total control of the assets.