Jun 19, 2016 News
By Kiana Wilburg
When it comes to the disclosure of contracts and concession agreements which were signed under
the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), President David Granger believes that these should be fully disclosed to the public.
During a brief interview with Kaieteur News, the Head of State was reminded of a promise that his government had made on several occasions – that certain contracts and concession agreements would be made available to the public, especially those which relate to the controversial Chinese logging company, BaiShanLin Forest Development Inc. and the Marriott Hotel.
But it has been over a year since the APNU+AFC coalition has taken office and this promise is yet to be fulfilled. Kaieteur News then asked Granger if he intends to honour the commitment or if he has changed his mind.
The Head of State made it clear that he believes in full disclosure and has no intention of changing his mind. He told this newspaper that this is what the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and the other branches of government should do – make concession agreements public.
Granger noted however that there are exceptions. In this regard, he said that the procurement of defence equipment should be kept under wraps. The President added, “In some situations in which equipment is supplied under the agreement of secrecy by foreign countries, depending on the nature of the equipment, we are of course not free to disclose, because you agree with another country that you would not do so.”
Aside from this, the President reiterated his belief that commercial agreements should not be treated as “state secrets” and that they should be fully disclosed.
This view is also one that is shared by Finance Minister, Winston Jordan. He said that information regarding any aspect of the concessions granted to foreign and/or local companies under the past regime are not state secrets.
Jordan said that the media, or any member of the public for that matter, have a right to know how the nation has benefitted in this regard. He reiterated that data on such subjects should not be treated as “state secrets”.
The Finance Minister said, “I have said it before and I will say it again, the public and the media have a right to know what is going on in the country. It is reasonable for taxpayers to want to know what the government of the day is doing in various sectors. It is even more reasonable for them to question how members within various sectors are operating, and operated during a certain period.”
Jordan added, “We need a society that questions what is going on and if the taxpayers ask for information, once it does not conflict with the laws of the land, then why should entities not make it known? I believe that they have a responsibility to do so. These things are not state secrets, so make it known.”
Jordan said, too, that the ad hoc system which allowed investors to benefit from open-ended concessions will soon be a thing of the past. The politician said that the scheme is one that is no longer sustainable and as such, a much more beneficial and legal policy will be in place. He said that moves are already being made in this regard.
“For the foreseeable future, we will have to use an incentive regime to attract and encourage investors, but we will have to use a regime that is more sustainable.”
The Finance Minister added, “What was done before was that concessions were given out in an uncontrolled manner. You would see in some cases that concessions given to certain firms or persons were open-ended and not monitored.”
Minister Jordan said that his Ministry is hoping to define the manner in which the concessions are granted, while pushing to have the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), monitor the concessions in a much more effective way.
He said, “Investors or businesses are supposed to file annual returns with the GRA, and this has not been done in almost every instance…so we need to move swiftly because not to do so is an illegal act. It also means that the relevant agencies are not doing their job.”
The Finance Minister emphasized the point that concessions must be capped. Asked if this will affect the exorbitant concession deals granted under the previous regime to certain companies, Jordan said, “Any new system will change the way things are.”
He added, “I don’t want to be unfair but there are laws, and if they are not followed then the relevant agencies must move to enforce the laws or retract the concessions granted.”
The ad hoc system in which concessions were granted under the previous regime was heavily criticized by the coalition party on the 2015 election campaign trail.
These criticisms were brought to the front burner when the PPP struck a handsome concession deal with a local contractor to repair the fibre optic cable from Lethem to Georgetown. This was part of the E-Governance initiative launched under the previous Government.
Additionally, the APNU+AFC coalition spoke out against the controversial Marriott Hotel which has been the recipient of extravagant tax holidays and tax breaks similar to the cable arrangement.
Given the aforementioned “concession-trend”, the APNU+AFC party had concluded that the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C) granted concessions in three packages — Gold, Silver and Bronze.
Junior Finance Minister, Jaipaul Sharma, had said that the gold package is the first-class tax concessions that the former Government granted to family and best friends. The silver package was for party members and the bronze package represents the tax concessions that were given to its supporters.
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