Nigel and Catherine Hughes have rubbished speculation that there is conflict of interest in relation to Nigel’s involvement in the Oil and Gas industry while his wife sits as a Minister of Government and is a part of Cabinet.
Yesterday, another section of the print media highlighted Transparency Institute of Guyana Incorporated (TIGI)’s concern about a possible conflict of interest with the Hugheses.
TIGI called for more than oral assurances from government that it will avert all matters of conflict of interest.
The body said too that the Integrity Commission should lead the way in having sound policies to address the issue.
TIGI’s call comes against the backdrop of the Hughes, Fields & Stoby law firm establishing an office in Houston, Texas, to attract oil industry clients. Principal of the firm, attorney Nigel Hughes is the husband of Minister of Public Telecommunications Cathy Hughes.
Head of TIGI, Dr Troy Thomas was quoted as saying “Just the fact that Nigel Hughes is the husband of Minister Cathy Hughes means that there is a potential conflict of interest. I hasten to reiterate that I am not, neither is TIGI, attempting to attack or make accusations against anyone.”
Dr. Thomas questioned whether any declaration about the new business venture was made to the Integrity Commission, “which, I believe, should handle matters involving ministers of government.”
He continued to question, “If such a declaration was made, what steps were prescribed for the minister to take, and perhaps the firms as well, to guarantee that no conflict of interest will be acted upon? What continuing efforts do the minister and the firm have to make to keep conflict of interest at bay in the future.”
Catherine Hughes has since issued a statement in response to the article.
She referred to the article as an “implied attack” on her, but noted that she would “not dwell upon the motives for the publication.”
She said that in July of this year, she submitted her declaration of assets and interest to the Integrity Commission.
“I am aware that the contents of my declaration are confidential but I will disclose that included in my declaration was a clear statement of my marriage to the Managing Partner of Hughes, Fields and Stoby and his interest in the firm.
Following my submission to the Integrity Commission on the 9th day of October 2018 I repeated my disclosure to the Cabinet about my husband’s position as Managing Partner of Hughes Fields and Stoby as well as the firm’s intention to establish an office in Houston.”
Further, Mrs. Hughes said that prior to the publication of the “implied attack”, she sought legal advice on the disclosure and compliance requirements set out in the Laws of Guyana.
Meanwhile, Hughes, Fields and Stoby also issued a statement.
The company said, “We are not unaware that the Minister has sought independent legal advice on this matter.”
Just like Mrs. Hughes, her husband’s company said that no efforts were made by the media to clarify if declarations were made.
The company was concerned that the article quoted partner Greg Clark saying, at the opening ceremony, “I like to call it ‘legislative watchman’, that the firm will keep their eyes out for every law, rule, regulation or policy that could impact our clients and we’ll take it upon ourselves to give them a draft of that document, if it’s available, along with a memorandum summarising the potential impact that new legislation can have on the company, for those companies that want that service.”
The company said that the “clear insinuation is being that somehow Minister Hughes would provide the firm with advance information on what laws, regulations and policies were in the pipeline.”
The company reminded about the process by which law, regulations and policies make their way into the legal effect. It said that most responsible governments, long before the introduction of new laws, regulations and/or policies, make public announcements and circulate the proposed laws, regulations and policies to stakeholders in the industry like bar associations, private sector organizations, civil society organizations and other stakeholders for comments. The bill on the establishment of the Petroleum Commission and local content are cases in point.
“The current Government is no exception to this practice, and as a matter of fact several persons have severely criticized both of these proposals in the press and elsewhere long before they have become law or policy. Hughes, Fields and Stoby, like every other private organization, will have access to the above process without any special privileges, ministerial or otherwise.”
Mr. Hughes’s company went on to state, “We are unaware of any recent instance where a cabinet decision went straight from cabinet into law without any prior announcement or consultation. The oil and gas industry is in its nascent stages and evidently many laws, regulations and policies will ensue over the coming years. “
Hughes, Fields and Stoby said that the process of advising one’s clients on what is likely to come down the legislative, regulatory or policy “pipeline” is part of what Attorneys are hired to do. The process of consultation is designed to afford all stakeholders an opportunity to be heard whether they consist of the citizenry or those in the oil and gas industry.
The law firm also said that its representation of major players in the industry preceded Catherine Hughes’s appointment to Cabinet as Minister of Tourism and now Minister of Public Telecommunication.
It stated, “We do not and have not placed our integrity as the basis for any special consideration for favourable or other consideration in the event of a conflict whether by TIGI, Stabroek (News) or any other body. We do not offer any ‘word of mouth assurances’. We have been open, transparent and clear in the expression of our intentions here and in Houston. We did not seek to hide the establishment of our Houston office without any local announcement. We are keenly aware that in Guyana, the commercial imperatives of a rush to judgment without consultation particularly where government officials are concerned are significant. We seek no privileges, special or otherwise, just an accurate reflection of both sides of the coin.”
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