In response to a complaint from residents of Subryanville, Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. (TIGI), on November 6, 2017, said wrote the Board of Directors of Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to enquire about how the conflict of interest involved in renting a building from a sitting director was handled.
“In addition to this, we queried the legality of and the message sent by the government agency holding offices in a residential area. To date, we have not received a response from the GGMC.”
In the intervening time, TIGI said, Kaieteur News addressed the conflict of interest matter in its January 1, 2018 publication and followed-up on January 10, 2018 with comments from the Chairman.
“The information published so far appears to substantiate that the director in question was not yet a member of the board at the time of the transaction. However, the published comments from the Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman, Commissioner Dennison and the Chairman, Stanley Ming, raise new concerns about the introduction of a conflict of interest once Mr. Shields became a director.”
The watchdog body said that one might speculate, for example, about whether Mr. Shield’s membership in the governing body is in any way affecting the haste, or lack thereof, with which the reported instruction from the Minister of Natural Resources to find another rental arrangement is being executed.
“What is the nature of Mr. Shield’s involvement in discussions and decisions about alternative accommodation for GGMC? That such a consideration, whether correct or not, is relevant indicates that the GGMC has not done enough to clear the air.”
TIGI said that GGMC’s rental of office space in the residential area, Subryanville, is a matter of concern for the residents.
“In the unanswered request for clarification, TIGI cited the information that it had received and which indicated that permission to use the premises in question for business was granted to Mr. Shields and is limited to his company and furthermore that the residents had objected to construction of the structure when this began in 2010.
TIGI noted that “such an arrangement (rental of office space in a residential area) involves a breach of the laws governing an area so classified especially without giving fair hearing to the residents … would imply official declassification of the area without due process and the inauguration of changes to the environment that the residents have developed for themselves over the years. This is definitely in contradiction with the notion of people empowerment that is inherent in activation of local government and hence also a contradiction of current government policy.”
TIGI said that GGMC, in its capacity as a governmental agency tasked with overseeing mineral fairness in vast swathes of the country, should ensure that the laws of Guyana are upheld at all times.
“Given that permission to use the premises for business is limited to [business name redacted], GGMC’s use of the premises would therefore be in breach of the laws of Guyana. TIGI wishes to know what justification the GGMC has for using the premises at [address redacted], Subryanville for government business.”
The Commission has, through its responses to the articles in the press, indicated that it is in the process of finding alternative accommodation. In fact, this was discussed since August 4, 2017 at a meeting with residents of Subryanville.
A written account of the discussion at that meeting indicates that the contract was signed by Commissioner Dennison on behalf of the GGMC and that Mr. Dennison did not take the residential status of the area into consideration even though he was aware of its status. Furthermore, the GGMC was not alerted about the residential classification of the area by the proprietor.
As the by-laws and ordinances of residential areas are increasingly being violated with the establishment of commercial ventures within them, it is pertinent to ask about the precedent that the establishment of offices in a residential area by the GGMC will leave for the residents of Subryanville to deal with.
It seems clear that the rental of the property for business purposes in the residential area by the government agency will signal to others that it is all right to violate the terms of their licences to allow unauthorised businesses to operate.
If a government agency like the GGMC could do it with impunity, why should anyone else not believe that such behaviour must be condoned?
“Subsequent to the articles about conflict of interest, other accusations about Mr. Shields in relation to mining permits were published in the press. These other matters were not included in the complaint received by TIGI and we are not currently in a position to address them authoritatively.
It would however be important for public confidence that GGMC elaborate on its rules regarding ownership of mining permits while a person is a director and how conflict of interest is avoided in such circumstances.”
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