– Calls for constitutional change to avoid another Amaila saga
The Alliance For Change (AFC) yesterday came out in full force to announce the party’s continuance of Attorney at Law Nigel Hughes as its chairman.
Yesterday marked the first instance where Hughes appeared on an AFC panel since the publication of him being affiliated with Amaila Hydro Inc., through his portfolio as Company Secretary, a position which he retains. The panel consisted of nine AFC members.
Despite the fact that Hughes reportedly shared, with the party, information as to his affiliation with Amaila Hydro Inc, the AFC never informed the public of same. Hence, the publication of this fact resulted in both Hughes’s decision to tender his resignation as party chairman and widespread gossip and deliberations about AFC’s sincerity.
Ramjattan yesterday told the media that his party recently had a National Executive meeting where members deliberated on issues surrounding the offer of resignation from Hughes.
According to Ramjattan, at that meeting, the National Executive unanimously agreed that it will not accept Hughes’s resignation as Chairman. Consequent upon that agreement, Hughes withdrew his offer to resign and thus remains the Chairman.
As Hughes addressed the media, he said that after a period of widespread consultation with the elders of his community – the wider Guyanese community, colleagues, the Caribbean and the Diaspora about his resignation – he was urged to reconsider his decision.
Hughes claimed that he also solicited opinion from the man in the street on several occasions and the responses pushed for him to withdraw the resignation.
The Attorney-at-law noted that he remains committed to the people of Guyana and the development of Guyana, in which all can equally participate in the decision-making process.
Hughes claimed that his resignation was driven by the fact that he didn’t want to become a source of distraction to all the work that the AFC has done in relation to Amaila.
However, he proceeded to offer his “sincere apology to the several members of the public and supporters of the AFC who were disappointed by the fact that this information had not been shared with them before.”
Truth of the matter
Even as Hughes apologized, the lawyer offered the related sequence of events. Hughes said that in 2009 his firm, more specifically himself, was retained to represent Sithe Global, as the American company indicated that it was interested in entering into an agreement with the government with the purpose of setting up a Hydro Plant at Amaila Falls.
Hughes said that it is a requirement of the government of Guyana that for any foreign investor to incorporate and establish a company in the country, “it is a perquisite of any investment agreement.”
The Attorney said that since the company had no immediate intention of establishing a physical office in Guyana, he was asked to act in the position as Secretary.
Hughes disclosed that discussions thereafter in relation to the Amaila Falls hydro power project, were conducted between Sithe Global, the China Development Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the government of Guyana.
“I was not party to those discussions, I was not invited to offer advice on those discussions; my role of company secretary was literally for the purpose of ensuring that the company complied with its legal regulation and I was indeed retained by Sithe and Amaila to provide legal advice on a range of matters.”
Hughes further emphasized that as the project plans developed, discussions continued between Sithe and the aforementioned partners… not Amaila Hydro Inc.
He said that in 2012, he became Chairman of the AFC “and shortly after, the issue of Amaila became an issue, and I disclosed that I was the lawyer for Amaila and Sithe, and asked to be recused on deliberation on that matter.”
Hughes specified that the privilege is with the client, not the lawyer, and unless the client permits the release of information on the nature of his engagement or the fact that he represents them, he could not do so.
Hughes told the media that he deeply regrets the fact that the public was not made aware of his affiliation, but asked to be forgiven on the call of professionalism.
The lawyer admitted that it was a difficult period for the AFC but said that, “As we move forward, now the country should start to discuss the issue of hydro power and how we can go about finding consensus and finding the best and brightest available.”
Hughes said that many lessons have been learnt from the entire saga, and one is that “the present arrangement allows the executive to enter into an agreement of this magnitude and significance to national development, without consultation at the initial stages with stakeholders of the communities” including members of the opposition and the business community. Hughes said that he hopes this model is no longer accepted.
He added: “It is clear that major international investors are weary about investing in major projects in Guyana which involves their money… unless there is total consensus on the project, which means that for the project to be successful from the inception all principal stakeholders, whether in or out of parliament, ought to be part of the process.
More importantly, what is demonstrated again is that a constitutional agreement which facilitated initial engagement on this project back in 2009 during the previous administration, without any consultation with other principal stakeholders in the country, cannot continue. Guyana continues to have constitutional agreements that rest all the executive power in the hands of a government, which may or may not be a minority.”
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