Hand-in-Hand Trust shares…Transaction smacks of massive illegality – AFC
- Party defends absence from NICIL debate
Opposition party, Alliance For Change (AFC), has defended its absence from last Tuesday’s televised debate on the contentious National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), insisting that the executives of the State-owned company must face grilling by the appropriate Parliamentary committee.
AFC Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan and senior executive Moses Nagamootoo, were both invited but declined to attend the forum which saw the invitees being given a mere 24-hours notice to participate.
NICIL, which is tasked with managing state assets and investments, has come under increasing pressure in recent times over a number of transactions, including plans to invest $4B (US$20M) into a Marriott-branded Hotel in Kingston.
On Tuesday, NICIL’s Executive Director, Winston Brassington, admitted that while the agency’s bank balance stood at $700M, it has set aside the US$20M for the hotel, which feasibility is under question even now. Heavy equipment has been mobilized at the site now despite the opposition’s misgivings and questions over the authority of NICIL to plunge that kind of money into a hotel, without Parliamentary approval.
According to Ramjattan, he is standing by earlier statements that Brassington and other NICIL officials will have to be “interrogated” by a Parliamentary committee.
Government has said that the feasibility study and other key documents, including details of investors, will remain confidential because of agreements signed.
At Tuesday’s forum to discuss NICIL that was aired live on NCN were Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh; Brassington; Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr. Roger Luncheon; accountant/lawyer/analyst, Christopher Ram; Publisher of Kaieteur News, Glenn Lall, and the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief, Adam Harris.
Both Lall and Ram noted that the forum was grossly inadequate to deal with the many burning
questions regarding NICIL and its operations.
The government officials were critical of this newspaper and other media entities for “biased coverage” of NICIL and despite specific questions posed over the current finances of that agency, the officials essentially shied away from details.
On Wednesday, during the weekly press conference of his party, Ramjattan continued his criticism of government’s stance on NICIL, saying that dust was still being thrown into the public’s eyes.
“The AFC maintains that the directors of NICIL are exercising their powers most illegally and unconstitutionally when they do what they are doing right now.”
Ramjattan made reference to recent revelations of shares in Hand-in-Hand Trust, which was privatized by NICIL in 2003, being sold to Jonathan Brassington, a US-based brother of the current NICIL boss. It was revealed that Winston Brassington signed legal papers on behalf of his brother.
“Look… this smacks of massive illegality and if they want to say I am talking nonsense, let them take me to court for a libel suit and we are going to ensure we prove justification. That is what they are afraid of. They know we can’t carry them to court, because there is no (such thing as) insider’s information offence in Guyana.”
Ramjattan also blasted Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, who denied that there was a conflict of interest situation. According to Ramjattan, from a legal perspective, there is “irrefutable presumption” of collusion when the transaction was examined.
“Had it been another country like Jamaica and Barbados, the Brassingtons would have been charged and jailed for (trading in) insider information… There may even be great violations regarding codes of conduct. When you have the AG asking what is wrong, it is ludicrous.”
Meanwhile, during his post-Cabinet press briefing, Dr. Luncheon said that Ramjattan’s posture is not conducive to a proper examination of the issues surrounding NICIL.
As a matter of fact, he believes that Ramjattan’s conduct regarding NICIL is “offensive and prejudices any intention to question Brassington at a Parliamentary committee”.
He said that while there can be dissatisfaction with the way NICIL operates, “what is impermissible” is the effort to criminalise the actions of NICIL and its management.
The official admitted that there is need to examine NICIL and its role at a national level, but it does not help for the opposition to claim that all that has been done by NICIL is “wrong, criminally wrong and unacceptably wrong.”