– Guyana should be proud of NICIL – PPP
– Taking state assets and giving it to friends and family is economic sabotage – APNU
– If you have nothing to hide show us the books – AFC
By Gary Eleazar
“The resources of Guyana are quite extensive and yet in reality the economic performances that we
have experienced have been less than sterling… The problem of the management of the national assets is what we are seeking to deal with here,” said A Partnership for National Unity’s Carl Greenidge.
He was speaking on his motion on the use and management of state assets particularly those under the aegis of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited.
The debate on the motion was inconclusive because the National Assembly had to be adjourned for time. As such the debate is expected to be concluded today when the sitting resumes and the motion is voted on.
Greenidge told the House prior to the adjournment, that it is a lack of accountability and transparency that triggered the motion.
He reiterated that it is a significant amount of national resources being managed by NICIL hence APNU’s call for the House to make arrangements for “an independent financial audit of the operations of NICIL as well as the Privatization Unit.” Greenidge drew reference to the most recent (2004) report on NICIL and asserted that between then and now several billion dollars in assets have been passing in and out of the NICIL accounts.
Minister of Finance, Dr Ashni Singh rubbished the resolution clauses in the motion, describing them as vague, “fundamentally flawed and without reasonable basis.”
He further lambasted what he called “nothing short of a vulgar attack” on NICIL and its Executive Director, Winston Brassington.
Dr Singh further charged that Guyanese should be proud of NICIL and its achievement especially given the in house expertise of Brassington. He pointed specifically to the Public/Private transaction for the Berbice Bridge.
The Finance Minister further charged that the vulgar attacks on NICIL and Brassington, particularly from the AFC, are baseless.
He also said that the motion should not have even been considered since it speaks to drawing from the Consolidated Fund for which a motion under the constitution is not empowered to do.
Prime Minister Sam Hinds said that he is unclear about the intent of the motions taken to the House by Greenidge and pointed out that a lot of the information requested is already publicly available. Further, there is the Economic Services Committee which is available to Greenidge.
Hinds spoke of the government and NICIL’s adherence to the Policy Paper which he reminded is a publicly available document.
APNU Parliamentarian, Keith Scott, in amplifying the opposition arguments for the need of a financial probe, accountability and transparency at NICIL said, “Leaders who are tasked with managing the resources of a nation are required to do so with transparent and full accountability.”
Scott continued to blast the operations of the Government-owned holding company. “To use your acquired skills to enrich your friend and family is to engage in economic sabotage of a country.”
Scott pointed to China’s approach. He spoke of the official who was sentenced to death for accepting bribes from China Harbour Engineering Company which has been granted a contract for the expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
“China deals with these vagabonds by executing them,” said Scott as he attempted to point to what he calls rascality at the National Communication Network, one of the companies that fall under NICIL.
He warned that corruption occurs in all countries rich and poor but thrives in an environment where controls are loose, where civil society is not represented and where inequality abounds.
Scott pointed out that Guyana is yet to prosecute anyone for economic crimes despite international reports casting the country in a bad light when it comes to corruption.
As he was about to be upbraided by the House for the use of the word corruption, Scott sought to explain, “We can use corruption to describe the lack of accountability and transparency,” and essentially warned that continued inequality in the distribution of wealth leads to civil unrest.
“NICIL and PU control the state assets that are privatized on our behalf,” said Scott as he expounded that “ownership resides in the people,” and as such the administrators of NICIL have to give detailed reports to the peoples’ representatives in the House.
He spoke of the fact that lands are being sold with no publication of the prices and valuation used to determine the value of the assets disposed of. He drew reference to the plot of land sold at Ruimveldt Industrial Site.
Housing and Water Minister, Irfaan Ali, in his presentation to the House chose to lambast the combined opposition. He spoke of the time when the PNC’s public accountability was brought into question as it relates to the disposal of state assets.
Ali charged that the current administration is, without question, adhering to the policies of transparency. He sought to explain why the consolidated reports for NICIL have been lagging behind.
Alliance for Change (AFC) Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan lambasted the government and its defence of NICIL. “If there is nothing to hide, then show us the books.”
He said that the rancor which was generated as a result of the motion demonstrated an unwillingness on the part of the administration to provide the details requested.
Ramjattan said that the objective was simple and should the administration be interested in accountability then it would not have any problem providing the information whether it at times involved duplicity.
He argued, “If you say nothing wrong and there is no corruption then clearly you can show us the books.”
Ramjattan queried what is wrong with requesting of the Minister, information which the NICIL Executive Director has refused to provide.
“We want an independent audit,” said Ramjattan as he continued to address the motion and pointed out that “Just like a suspect under question you get even more suspicious…that is what is happening here.”
He asserted that instead of there being clarification on the NICIL debacle “you are getting more confusion…There might be cover up involved and this could all be cleared up if you present the reports.”
In drawing reference to what he calls Cheddi Jagan’s traditions, Ramjattan said that the founder leader of the party “would have said show them the books…What are you hiding the books for?”
Ramjattan charged that there is a suspicion that a ‘cabal’ or ‘oligarch’ is benefitting.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall said that it was ill conceived and a sad fact that Members of Parliament consistently fail to utilize avenues such as the sectoral committees.
Speaking to Greenidge’s call for an independent audit of NICIL, Nandlall said that it was only a few hours before the debate that the House had heard of the independence and autonomy of the Audit Office and as such he couldn’t understand the move for an independent audit.
Nandlall further charged that the demands being made of Greenidge were vague and quite impossible for the Government to abide with the requests.
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