Jul 11, 2016 News
By Abena Rockcliffe- Campbell
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon says that while it may be the will of the APNU+AFC government to make public certain controversial contracts and agreements signed by the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic (PPP/C), doing so may open the coalition to court action.
The media has been having a very hard time getting hold of certain contracts and agreements. These are mostly for projects that were smeared in controversy.
There have been several calls made by diplomats for the public not be left in the dark as regards these agreements. Even President David Granger has said that these agreements should be made public.
But the situation where these contracts are kept under lock and key remains unchanged.
Some of the contracts that the media have been trying to get hold of were signed by NICIL when it was being run by Winston Brassington. These include the Berbice River Bridge agreement.
Over the last week, Kaieteur News made numerous efforts to get hold of the new Chairman of Board of the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL), Dr. Maurice Odle to find out if that company is willing to follow through with the will of the President. However, efforts to contact the Chairman over that period proved futile.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon sits on NICIL’s Board. Speaking to Kaieteur News, Harmon said that the fact that NICIL is yet to release the contracts should not be interpreted to mean that the company simply does not want to. He said that in many cases, NICIL’s hand may very well be tied.
The Minister said that the Board of NICIL can endeavor to consider releasing those contacts that are not bound by a confidentiality clause.
“You see, we have a situation where there is this thing called privacy of contract. If a contract is signed between two (or more) parties and that contract is signed with a privacy clause, no one party can go and release that contract,” said Minister Harmon.
Harmon said that if one party decides to go public, “the other party will have a clear and strong case against you.”
Harmon advised Kaieteur News to make a list of the contracts it wants to peruse. He said that NICIL’s Board can then consider each contract, examine the terms and conditions and make available those which are not bound by a privacy clause.
United Kingdom (UK) High Commissioner, Greg Quinn’s position is that unless the disclosure of a signed contract would compromise national security, it should be made public.
Quinn had said that the demand for transparency should be met by any government worth its salt.
Quinn said, “Transparency is fundamental. It is at the core of everything that is good in governance as happens in the UK.”
The envoy said that the UK has made it a principle to keep citizens informed, especially about how their tax dollars are spent.
He said that the rare situation should be when institutions falling under both Central and Local Government decide not to make a contract public and the reasons for that should be clear and legitimate.
“Also, there should be very clear criteria for holding information back; for example on the basis of National Security that’s how we do it in the UK. I definitely support President Granger’s statement in that respect, said Quinn.
The statement to which the High Commissioner referred is a recent one. President David Granger said that he believes that all contracts and agreements should be fully disclosed to the public.
During an interview with Kaieteur News, the Head of State was reminded of a promise that his government had made on several occasions.
Granger and his team had promised 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 a year since the APNU+AFC coalition has taken office and this promised release is not yet a reality. 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. Granger said NICIL and the other branches of government should make concession agreements public.
However, the President said that the procurement of defence equipment should be kept under wraps. Granger said, “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.”
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