Aug 26, 2017 News
…Says coalition administration must stop hiding behind secrecy
For almost 23 years, major contracts and concession agreements signed between the PPP regime and foreign entities were hidden from public scrutiny.
In spite of calls from the media and numerous anti-corruption advocates, the PPP’s leaders came up with one excuse after the other to justify its refusal to have these documents released in the public interest. Their most famous reason was that those contracts were bound by confidentiality clauses.
In an ironic twist of faith, however, the APNU+AFC Government is using the same line of argument as to why it is unable to release some of those crucial contracts and concession agreements.
Opposition Leader and former President, Bharrat Jagdeo is not accepting this “excuse” from the Government. Yesterday, the politician repeated his call for the coalition administration to release the contracts which his party hid for almost 23 years.
At his weekly press conference, Jagdeo said that nothing is stopping the Government from releasing the contracts in relation to the controversial Marriott Hotel, Sanata Complex, Baishanlin Forest Development etc. and even its contract with US oil giant, Exxon Mobil.
The Opposition Leader said, “…Today, in light of all that they have said, I have been on record asking them to release everything they said we were not transparent about. Release the revised contract for the airport (and the) Marriott contract, because these are available to government. We have been saying this for over a year now.”
The former President added, “There is nothing that is stopping them from releasing the Baishanlin contract or Sanata…There is nothing stopping them… They can release them tomorrow. I had even asked that they release the evaluation report for the road to the hydro power, because you remember…they were saying that we gave it preferentially to ‘Fip’ Motilall. The Government has to stop hiding behind secrecy”.
While it was the practice under the PPP to have almost every contract painted with confidentially or non-disclosure clauses, the current government, prior to the 2015 elections and even now, insists that it would not walk in the same pathway.
This view was proffered recently by Public Infrastructure Minister, David Patterson. He told the media that contracts which are entered into under the APNU+AFC government will not include such clauses.
At his party’s most recent press conference, the AFC Executive Member reminded that contracts such as those involving the Sanata Complex, the Marriott Hotel and Baishanlin Forest Development Inc were all crafted under the previous administration. He, along with his other AFC colleagues stressed, however, that those contracts contain confidentiality clauses, and as such, the Government is unable to disclose them to the citizenry.
Patterson noted, “We don’t as a government, include non-disclosure clauses into our contracts. I can say for my remit, the only contract of significance from my end is the Berbice Bridge…But even though the contract says that I can’t release it, if you ask me anything on the contract, I would answer it honestly, but to release it, we can be challenged legally.”
On the flipside of Patterson’s arguments, there are still several local critics who are of the view that the Government may be walking in the same footsteps as its predecessor.
This conclusion is grounded in the fact that despite relentless calls from various sections of society, contracts for major development projects still remain beyond the reach of public scrutiny.
When the coalition government served time in the Opposition, it continuously called for the contracts of these very projects to be released.
Additionally, President David Granger had expressed the belief that such contracts should be fully disclosed to the public.
The Head of State made it clear that he believes in full disclosure and has no intention of changing his mind on that front. 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 and/or contracts 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 is not a 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”.
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