May 20, 2017 News
By Kiana Wilburg
It has been over two years, and the Government is yet to release a number of contracts and
concession agreements which have been requested by the media. This is in spite of the fact that President David Granger had cleared the way for this to be done.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon at his post-cabinet press briefing on Thursday, was told that members of the media have been calling for the release of concession agreements for BaiShanLin Forest Development Inc, Vaitarna Holdings Private Inc. and the contract governing the Sanata Complex deal. But these are yet to be released even though media operatives were told before that they can be made available.
The Cabinet Secretary said, “I cannot say anything about it. It is a matter which has been brought to the attention of the government that these are contracts that are required. I am sure if the appropriate authorities are written to, (it would reveal that) a lot of these contracts you can’t just ask for and get.”
“There is a process by which you get access to these contracts. But I cannot say with respect to the contracts why they are not released and where they are but I believe that any contract (in the field of timber and the like) will have to be at the Ministry of Finance. That is where it should be.”
Apart from the Head of State giving the permission for contracts to be released, his sentiments have also been echoed in the past by Finance Minister, Winston Jordan.
He had said that information regarding any aspect of the concessions granted to foreign and/or local companies under the past regime is not state secret.
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 had 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 it should be made 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.
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.”
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 represented the tax concessions that were given to its supporters.
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