I have said it privately and I will now say it publicly. I do not believe that we need any polygraph machine to help us decide whether the President withdrew from the Cabinet Meeting when the Sanata Complex deal was considered.
The President said that he left the meeting and I believe him. I take him at his word. If he said he was not there, he was not there.
I do not need to know who chaired the meeting in the President’s absence. The fact is that the President did the ethically correct thing and left the meeting.
I do not feel there is any need for this angle to be pursued. There is no need for the Ministers to be signing any document confirming that the President was not part of the deliberations of that meeting. No need at all.
I, however, understand the point that was being made by Uncle Freddie. He pointed to the realities of politics. While the President withdrew from the meeting because of his close personal friendship with one of the principals of Queens Atlantic Investments Inc, we must consider the issue of the Cabinet members having to consider a matter which they know concerns a friend of the President.
This is not an uncommon situation. In such situation, the right thing is for the President, in withdrawing from the deliberations, to indicate that he does not wish his personal relationship with the investor to influence the decision even more so because of the fact that he is the superior of those entrusted to approve the deal.
The President should make it clear that he expects his ministers to act in their own deliberate judgment and indicate that he would accept the outcome of any decision that is arrived at. I am absolutely confident that the President of Guyana did this and thus the decision arrived at by Cabinet was not in any way, not even remotely, influenced by the President.
I also expect that since the President withdrew from the Cabinet meeting, this fact would have been reflected in the minutes of the Cabinet meeting. In addition, because these minutes are distributed to all Cabinet members, I would expect that on short notice any one of these ministers would be able to provide proof of these facts. But I am not asking for this proof because I believe what the President said.
The Cabinet minutes would indicate who chaired that particular discussion and who supported the deal and who did not. These are national records which one day will be available for the whole world to see and therefore if needs be in due course these records can be made public.
Each week, the media is invited to a press conference. At that press conference, there are reports about issues discussed by Cabinet. We are told that Cabinet discussed so and so and took so and so positions. These could be about matters in the public domain or they could be simply matters of policies. In addition, each week, the media is informed as to what contracts had been approved by the government.
It therefore was very strange that despite the Sanata deal being discussed at Cabinet and approved by the said body, I could not recall this matter being reported at the weekly press briefings held by the Cabinet Secretary. Surely if it was reported, it would have already hit the press.
The question therefore is how is it that this matter was discussed at Cabinet and was not raised at the weekly press briefing. I believe this was an oversight. I believe that. And if the government says this, I will believe this because the government is a good and honest government.
I, however, have other concerns. It concerns the concessions offered to the new investor. These concessions would have had to have been negotiated. The investor would have had to have been in contact with somebody to negotiate the extremely generous package of concessions, including tax holidays and duty waivers. There would have had to be consultations with technical personnel on this matter. Meetings would have had to be held and recommendations made.
The public is entitled to know who negotiated these concessions on behalf of the government. This is not confidential information. The concessions have been made public. There can be no harm in revealing to the public just who negotiated the concessions.
If on the other hand the government says that there were no negotiations; that the investor simply applied for all these concessions and it was granted without negotiations, I would believe them. In fact, I would believe anything they say. But please just let them say it so that I would not have to ask.
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