WINDOW-DRESSING

January 20, 2013 | By | Filed Under Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom 

There is a modest home in the village, unpainted and having had better days. On the outer wall there is a slot into which was fitted a window that looks out onto the roadway. The facing of window is rotten.
Yet if you passed by this window during the Christmas holiday, you would never know that it is into an extended age of decay. It was garlanded with green Christmas ivy, decorated with colorful balls and fairy lights. It looked pretty impressive and created the illusion of well-being.
Last week, the government of Guyana released its privatisation dossier. This too was impressive. In fact it seemed to have fooled everyone. The opposition’s fierce criticism of NICIL and the privatisation process seemed to have been muted by the release of the dossier.
In other circles, including this newspaper, there was nothing but praise for the Donald Ramotar administration. In fact, the praises went so far as to suggesting that the release represented tangible evidence of Uncle Donald’s break with the policies of Bharrat Jagdeo.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The release of the dossier has all the trappings of the old administration. It is the type of response that one could have anticipated from the Jagdeo regime in the face of severe criticisms of its privatisation process and the role of a holding company NICIL as a depository for funds accrued from the sale or lease of state assets.
There is nothing creative, innovative, special or new about this dossier. It is window-dressing to give effect to the notion that the regime is transparent when it comes to its privatisation process.
While it was released under Uncle Donald, it has nothing to do with his policies, since there has been no privatisation since he came to office.
While the dossier offers an account of what was sold, for how much it was sold, and provides other details of these sales, this very information could have been obtained with diligent research.
What the dossier omits to address are some of the substantive criticisms of the privatisation process, particularly those that occurred between 2006 and 2011. Firstly, it fails to deal with the criticism that the privatisation process had moved away from the original policy framework paper which was developed under Cheddi Jagan to guide privatisation decisions.
Secondly, it fails to address some of the controversial deals that were made, including the Sanata Complex deal, in which the government has admitted that one thing was advertised and another thing sold. It has also failed to provide a copy of the terms of that privatisation.
Thirdly, there was a case in which a piece of the reserve was given to someone at the Industrial Estate in Ruimveldt. There were no invitations for bids before this was done. Also large tracts of state lands, including lands that adjoined burial grounds and would have been needed for extensions to those grounds, were sold to private developers. Were these lands allocated through a competitive process?
Fourthly, there was a controversial incident in which monies were spent to renovate a property before it was put up for sale. Why was this necessary? The dossier is also silent on this.
Fifthly, the adjoining property was also tendered and bidders ranked. The property was awarded to the first-ranked bidder who subsequently declined to go ahead with the purchase. The property should rightly then have been offered to the second-ranked bidder, but it was offered instead to the third-ranked bidder.
What is needed therefore is not a dossier listing the privatisations undertaken by the government. What is needed is an audit of the privatisation processes to ensure that they were consistent with the law, fair and transparent. Such an audit should also ensure that the government got value for money, that credible valuations were done before the properties were put up for sale, and that the proceeds of these privatisations were put to good use.
Until such time as Uncle Donald undertakes such an audit, he cannot be said to have effectively broken with the controversial policies of the Jagdeo administration and his dossier will have to be treated as mere window-dressing.

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