National Assets4073 13 Jun, 2012
Minister of Housing and Water [Mr. Ali]: After listening to the Hon. Member Mr. Scott, I am reminded of a famous saying, “Like this man born with caal.” [Hon. Member (Opposition): It is caul.] It is not an English word; it is caal. You are not countryman as me. Now that I have engaged the Opposition I would wish to proceed.
I can understand the genesis of this motion, as the author of this motion presided over a very dark blanket in the era of the economic and social development of this country. I can also understand why the mover of this motion is so concerned about National Assets, because in 1992 there was a flight of the assets. It was famously reported that one man moved with an entire bus park. The buses were branded “Food for the Poor.” When we talk about National Assets, I can still hear, ringing in my head, the honourable Moses Nagamootoo standing, in 1992, in 1993, and saying, “Where has the barge gone, the lost barge? I can recall the famous photograph taken, about the hydro project, that asset could not have been found. I know many poor Guyanese are still looking for the assets in Globe Trust. Where has Globe Trust gone? So, indeed, the author of the motion is moving from a very good genesis. He understands the historical context in which the motion is moved and I think he is trying to help us to correct history and I will try to assist him down that road.
Prior to October, 1992 - let me remind this honourable House and by extension our brothers and sisters out there - NICIL was operated by the State Planning Secretariat, under the direct hand of the then Minister of Finance and there was, not a body, not a board, a figurehead there, and this is an undisputed fact. So, all the assets that went on flight must be accounted for by the sole hand that administered NICIL at that time. We must ensure that the history is so written that those that had a direct hand in administering the injustice of taking away the assets from our people, also, are held accountable to the people of this country. We are going to ensure that that level of accountability, as is required by this Government, must also go back to test what was there and where we have come from.
To understand the genesis too, let us look at the premise from which the motion is derived. I am quoting directly from the motion:
“WHEREAS in their recent reports on transparency and corruption the international community including…”
It is including a number of agencies.
“…rated Guyana poorly;
AND WHEREAS Guyanese are concerned about the widely…”
There is no pointing to any direct report; there is no pointing to any direct statistical fact; there is no pointing to any analytical intelligent position. There is basically a pointing from a perception, a basis of perception.
But let me take this opportunity to point to facts, to point to independent positions. I will start, because it is important for us to have a general understanding of the issue of accountability and transparency, by pointing to the Guyana and the IDB: Partners For Progress report. The copy is online; the copy is available in any public space.
Let us look at what is stated on the issue of transformation, accountability and transparency, page 12:
“The 1992 elections signaled a return to democracy. The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) won the majority votes after 28 years in opposition, and Dr. Cheddi Jagan was elected president. The new Government embraced market economy policies. One USAID assessment asserted that these policies had resulted in the highest rate of economic growth in the hemisphere, sharply reduced inflation, increased exports, contributed to greater foreign investment, and allowed for more productive diversification. These achievements emerged from a combination of bilateral support…”
And policy reforms.
Then, if you go to page 40 of the same report, it states:
“According to the standardised index…”
And it is known what the standardised index is. The standardised index measures a number of pillars of development and growth.
“…Guyana moved up from ranking at about 96 percent of the total sample group in 2008 to 78 percent in 2010…”
It was from ninety-six per cent to seventy-eight per cent, an improvement of nineteen per cent.
“Its absolute scores improve by 9.1 percent. The results show higher improvements, not only in the pillars more relevant to Guyana’s stage of development (first four pillars) but also important advances in the fifth and ninth pillars, preparing the country for the next development stage.”
However, since the last elections we have seen consistent efforts by the Members of the Opposition to stymie our progress in accelerating growth and development on the ninth, tenth and eleventh pillars.
Let us be responsible. I can understand the howling, but let me say this that perhaps sometimes we need to review the value for money we get. There is one consultant, sitting on the opposite side of this House, who was paid G$309,000 per day. Is that conscientious?
I will continue. International Development Association (IDA) at work, Guyana Poverty Reduction on Public Management Operation, September, 2008 had this to say, on more transparent and efficient public financial management and procurement. This is what it states:
“An assessment by the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and the European Union Fund found that management of public finances in Guyana improved considerably in the last five years.”
It part, as a result of the Poverty Reduction on Public Management Operation (PRPMO) [Mr. Nagamootoo: Call the name.] I would not call the name but who the cap fits let them wear it.
“New laws and regulations were enacted to address systemic financial management weaknesses and close loopholes. A new Audit Act was enacted, giving the Auditor General the powers to carry out effective and independent audits. The Lottery Fund was audited. Public procurement regulations and standard bidding documents were introduced for use by National and Regional Tender Boards. PRPMO supported the launching of the first phase of the fiduciary oversight strengthening programme.”
These are the developments. These are the advancements in transparency and accountability that we must talk more about. Indeed Guyana, we, as a people, as a Government, have advanced forward and improved tremendously the transparency and accountability of this country. So the genesis, the premise, on which the motion was written, is wrong.
Let us look at the history of NICIL. National assets are assets of a permanent value belonging to a country. While the national assets of Guyana were managed directly by the Government in 1990, NICIL was established as the primary agent of Government mandated to manage assets. Let us make sure we understand this. NICIL was established under the Companies Act and further institutionalised via the laying of the Privatisation Policy Framework Paper, 1993 to the National Assembly. This document here was laid in the National Assembly by this Government and it was accepted here, in this National Assembly. So when we speak about criteria, guidelines governing the sale of national assets, governing the privatisation process, it was all in here - the guidelines governing privatisation that was laid in the National Assembly. So it is unfair to try to create an impression that there was no basis, or there was no public discourse, or there was no acceptance on a document that outlines very clearly the rules procedures, guidelines and principles governing the privatisation process of this country.
Furthermore, this document went further to identify the companies which will be privatised and those which will not be privatised. Mr. Speaker, if you look at the institutional arrangement governing privatisation in Guyana… This here, I would ask for it to be disputed. We have to be fair and honest; it is part of our oath.
There was a presentation in the Office of the President of which the Opposition was invited to discuss matters of the hydroelectricity – the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project. The Members turned up. Mr. Brassington made a presentation. At the end of the presentation the Hon. Member Mr. Ramjattan got up, went over to Mr. Brassington, shook his hands and congratulated him, and told him that he was satisfied with the information that was provided. Yet, this same Hon. Member went out in the public to say that the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project is… [Mr. Ramjattan: Absolutely. You were not there by the way.] Are you denying it? [Interruption]
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, can I have some order please? Mr. Ramjattan, I would allow you on a point of clarification under Standing Order 39, if you wish.
Mr. Ramjattan: I did congratulate Mr. Brassington for his presentation and said I will wait until the IDB finally make its call on the project. The IDB still has problems with it.
Ms. Ally: Lie!
Mr. Speaker: Okay, Hon. Members, I am preparing a glossary to add to the unparliamentary terms. “Lie” is one of them. So let us not use that word against another Member, please.
An Hon. Member: Were you there?
Mr. Ali: Figure it out. This is a case of dancing two different dances, one on the inside and one on the outside. The only problem is that he is dancing to the same tune. We have outlined here, in the document that was made public, the institutional arrangement for privatisation in Guyana. We do not need a motion to deal with this. These are documents that already exist. Any good researcher would have known this, would have tried to understand what documents - the data, the content - exist out there before drafting a motion. But this motion is what the Hon. Member Ms. Gail Teixeira described as “playing politics is pure politics”.
I wish to outline now thirteen points that speak directly to the issue of accountability and transparency in NICIL, in the disposal of assets also. Let me make it very clear that the assets are publicly advertised. There is a clear bidding process. NICIL/ Privatisation Unit formed in July, 1990 by the PNC Government. Formation documents provided very wide powers. Directors have discretion over dividends. Let us understand the genesis. Directors have powers over the dividends, powers of the company, including what NICIL currently does, and more. The Privatisation Unit formed in 1993 in accordance with the Privatisation Policy Framework White Paper that was laid in the National Assembly. The framework provided the base for transparent privatisation programme. According section 160 of the Companies Act of 1991, NICIL as a parent company, is required to prepare consolidated accounts or group of accounts. From 2002, NICIL, in discussion with the Auditor General, identified that consolidated accounts were required. NICIL set about this process with assistance, from whom? It was from Ram and Mc Rae.
Under section 22 of the Audit Act of 2004, the Auditor General is required to audit the accounts of NICIL as an entity, in which a majority interest rest with the state. NICIL has generally submitted in a timely basis its accounts for audit, that is, within four months of the end of each year. NICIL, as a company, has its audit completed up the end of 2010. Management letters have been issued up to the end of 2010. The year 2011 audit is currently on the way and is expected to be completed within a few weeks.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, on a Point of Order. The last presentation that the Minister of Finance made on this matter made reference to 2006. It is a 2006 Report we received here. If indeed NICIL prepared these…
Minister of Education [Ms. Manickchand]: What is the Point of Order?
Mr. Greenidge: The Point of Order is that it is inaccurate and it would appear to be a fabrication, of what it is more.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Member, I will not uphold that Point of Order, because if one Member made a statement and another Member made another statement, that is a matter that is contradictory, and which can be used in your rebuttal to show and to point out that contradiction and it could be clarified later. But I cannot stop a Member from making a statement as to a date and something has been done if that is his knowledge.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, it is the case of whether or not accounts were prepared and presented are matters of fact. They are not opinions, and the authority on this matter is the Minister of Finance. He has the responsibility for NICIL.
Mr. Speaker: Point is taken, but the point I am making is this: that if the Minister has made a statement and another Member made a statement that was not in consonant with what the Minister has said then it does raise a contraction, but I am in no position to rule that he is inaccurate or that the Minister is accurate. The Minister may have made a statement, but can you verify that the Minister of Finance’s statement is a correct one? We cannot.
Mr. Greenidge: Can he therefore give us the source of that document and when it was laid?
Mr. Speaker: That I believe that I can allow. Hon. Minister, I would allow that question as to the source.
Mr. Ali: My source is my research with NICIL. [Interruption]
Mr. Greenidge: There is the letter as the transmitting the report, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: I see three Members on their feet at the same time; I may have to rise too. Please be seated Mr. Greenidge. I am still speaking.
I have ruled that I will not uphold the Point of Order. A question may be put by any Member to the responsible Minister, on a later date, to find out and to ascertain whether or not what the Minister is saying is accurate or inaccurate. If it is his belief, based on his research, that the statements he is making are true and correct and he is prepared to stand by them - that is his belief - I would not rule that he is inaccurate or that his facts are wrong simply because another Minister, whether he or she is the subject and responsible Minister, has said otherwise and so I invite the Hon. Minister to proceed, but I would ask that, at some stage, the Minister of Finance, as an Hon. Member of this House, does provide a clarification. I will not prevent the Member from proceeding. Proceed Hon. Member.
Mr. Ali: We, on this side of this House, are not in the business of misrepresentation. We are not in that business. What we are presenting here is nothing but the facts - nothing but the hard facts. But, as you know, Mr. Speaker, the rush was filled with political venom so it could not have stopped to ascertain what the facts were. Let me repeat what I had to say. NICIL, as a company, has its audit completed up to the end of 2010. Management letters have been issued to the end of 2010. NICIL, Mr. Speaker…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Minister, I will ask you now, your source is…
Mr. Ali: My research is with NICIL.
Mr. Speaker: Your source is…
Mr. Ali: NICIL.
Mr. Speaker: Is it the company or an officer of the company?
Mr. Ali: Mr. Speaker, I can assure you that the man who is responsible will confirm this.
Mr. Speaker: Very well. Proceed.
Minister of Finance [Dr. Singh]: Mr. Speaker, if I may, with your permission.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you.
Dr. Singh: This matter really is an extremely simple one. I am surprised that it would generate the level of consternation and confusion that it has, on that side of the House. I will say first of all that my colleague, the Minister of Housing and Water, was absolutely correct in his information. What he has said was in no way inconsistent with the fact that the latest annual report tabled in the National Assembly was the one referred to by the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge. There is a difference between NICIL the company and NICIL the holding company or the group of companies that comprises NICIL.
The annual report for NICIL, because it is a holding company, includes consolidated accounts which will essentially comprise the aggregation of the accounts of all of the subsidiaries of NICIL, and for the annual report to be completed the consolidate accounts of the group have to be completed and the annual report, in relation to those consolidated accounts, would have to be completed as well and then, of course, be brought to the National Assembly.
What the Hon. Member said was that NICIL, the company, has had its audits completed up to 2010 and that is a fact. But for the consolidated accounts to be completed everyone of NICIL subsidiaries has to be audited as well and then those accounts, consolidated on the consolidated accounts, will be audited. That is a fact. Anybody who is vaguely familiar with either the Companies Act, as it relates to holding companies, or groups of companies, or with the accounting arrangements that govern holding companies would be familiar with these facts.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you Sir.
Dr. Singh: So those, Mr. Speaker, are the facts.
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Greenidge, would you wish to, in legal parlance we would call it a kind of voir dire that is about to take place here, make a quick statement of clarification for your part before I ask the Minister to proceed? If you do not want to, you do not have to Sir. It is if you wish.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, as far as I am concerned, I do not have any difficulty with the explanation the Minister of Finance has given. He has given that explanation before, as regards the report. I object, however, to a Minister purportedly speaking on the Minister of Finance’s behalf, using the same term to refer to two different entities in a bid to misrepresent the reality.
Mr. Speaker: That is a very strong statement you make, that he is. As I said, in rebuttal, you may point out those inconsistencies if you wish, but I do not think that I can stop the Minister from proceeding. Proceed Hon. Minister.
Mr. Ali: Mr. Speaker, my representation is a perfect representation of the reality. I wish to also take away this myth that reports are not submitted. During the last two years the Minister of Finance, who we are very proud of, has laid in the National Assembly over eighty-five sets of accounts related to NICIL, its subsidiaries, representing over fifty-nine per cent of the number of eligible years. Are they going to deny this too? Annual general meetings are held once the consolidated group accounts audits have been completed. Further, the myth that proceeds are not transferred to the treasury…Between 1994 and 2011 proceeds totalling over $12 billion were transferred to the treasury.
During 1994 to 2001, NICIL paid over $2.3 billion to the treasury in dividends. During 2002 to 2011, NICIL paid over $9.1 billion to the treasury in dividends. Further, during the last ten years, NICIL has paid its own expenses - made payment to the Mayor and City Council (M&CC), over $363.8 million of taxes, covered the former operation of the former bauxite company, financed the development of the public-private partnership. Those were some of the accomplishments of NICIL. Never before, in the history of our country has there been this level of respect, this level of seriousness, as it relates to Government accountability, transparency and accounting. That is also an undisputed fact. But there is still a lot more to be done.
The modernisation process of the financial sector still requires a lot of work, but I am confident, under the strong committed hands of Dr. Ashni Singh lies the integrity, dignity and commitment to get this done.
Thank you. [Applause]
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