Timeliness or Similarity between Privatisation and Private Enterprises3575 13 Jun, 2012
Mr. Nandlall: I will be very brief, Mr. Speaker.
What this motion illustrates and what this debate is demonstrating is that Members of this Hon. House are not utilising the facilities which we have struggled hard to establish in this House and they are not utilising the reports and other documents that are brought here at taxpayers’ expense. Millions of dollars are spent annually in the preparation of reports. We have restructured the entire parliamentary structure to allow for questions to be asked. We have established sectoral committees with oversight capabilities to request from sector Ministers, information, all of which could have been requested by utilising the existing facilities which are available at our disposal in this Parliament and yet another mechanism was chosen, an additional mechanism of filing a motion to request information which most of is available and has been provided.
The motion begins with the WHEREAS clause citing certain reports:
“WHEREAS in their recent reports on transparency and corruption the international community, including the World Economic Forum, Transparency International and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) have rated Guyana poorly;”
A year is not cited so a person who wants to seriously debate this motion cannot go and identify the opening line of the motion in order to verify the veracity and the authenticity of this declaration which is made. We are doing the public’s business here and we have to do it with certain standards. We have to respect each other. And the fact that a Member is coming here with these grand declarations, citing - I can say with caprice now - reports to suit one’s convenience but denying the other side which may have to reply to the report an opportunity of examining from whence the statements have come... And that is why the first WHEREAS clause ought not to be taken seriously.
Let us go to the second WHEREAS clause:
“AND WHEREAS Guyanese are concerned about the widely reported acts of lawlessness in the guardianship of our national resources and assets as well as the lack of transparency and accountability associated with the disposal of those assets,”
What is the source? Where have the Guyanese people expressed these views? I can say that the Guyanese people are concerned with “x”, “y” and “z” and move this whole Parliament on a motion to investigate. The vagueness, I think, is disrespectful to Your Honour as well as to the entire Assembly. And then it says:
“BE IT RESOLVED:
That this National Assembly requests the responsible Ministers of Government to:
(a) Provide the National Assembly with a report in keeping with the law, on the disposal by sale or otherwise of all state lands, including the terms on which they were disposed of and the criteria used, which took place: Further between the date of announcement (Sunday, 9th October, 2011) of the National and Regional Elections and 31st December, 2011 and between 1st January, 2000 and 9th October, 2011;”
Which law? Not a single piece of legislation is cited. No particular Minister is identified. Must the entire Government go on this wild goose chase to search for documents and transactions? We do not know which law holds us accountable. Later on in the motion, I realised, there is some focus on NICIL, but, that aside, when one reads this WHEREAS Clause by itself, it does not identify a Minister. It does not tell us what type of state assets we are dealing with. It does not tell us how far we should go back. Should we go back to when Mr. Greenidge was the Minister of Finance? So this is the type of vagaries and ambivalence that is affecting this type of motion. I will ask for a greater degree of diligence. I am supposed to speak on this and I do not know where to look. I do not know which law the Hon. Member is speaking about. There is no piece of law in this country that deals with the disposal of state assets – none! It is a wild goose chase. Bring it in accordance with the law. Which law?
Then it states:
“(b) Make financial provision for the urgent commissioning of an independent financial audit of the operations of the National Industrial Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL) and the Privatisation Unit;”
These are bodies that are already being audited by the Auditor General and we heard, at length, how independent and how autonomous the Auditor General’s Office is. And today we gave it greater autonomy. Only today we heard how independent the Audit Office is and it is in place granted when my friend was the Minister of Finance, there was a great gap from 1983 to about 1991where he did not produce to this Assembly an Auditor General’s report relating to the years that he was the Minister of Finance. So I could understand that. But we have moved on from that. We have moved on from that Mr. Greenidge. We corrected your lapses; we corrected your dereliction from duty and we have an Auditor General in place and we have ensured that the Auditor General audits every single state-run agency and every single agency that receives public funding, and the Auditor General, at the end of that process, produces a report which is laid here and then transmitted for intimate scrutiny at the Public Accounts Committee charged with the specific responsibility of examining, with microscopic detail, every single transaction. So are we going to burden the taxpayers of this country with another independent audit? Who is supposed to do this other independent audit? [Members: Christopher Ram.] Christopher Ram – let the record reflect – was also a consultant who worked with NICIL during 2003 and 2004 and he is my source. Christopher Ram is my source. He was also engaged.
As the Hon. Minister of Finance said and the Minister of Housing and Water explained, NICIL is an umbrella body with many companies, and there are various auditors, extrinsic of the government services, who are retained on a regular basis to audit various companies within the NICIL umbrella. Those accounts are then submitted in a consolidated way and they are audited by the Auditor General. I am not an accountant, but I know that because it is there and I have read it and I hope that my friends on that side will read it. As I said, Mr. Greenidge was away and for that reason alone I will excuse him. He came back with a nicely driven car, but, that aside, he was away. But I cannot excuse Mr. Ramjattan because he has been on this side for most of the years and then he migrated to that side. [Dr. Ramsammy: He migrated without a car.] And there is a story about him and cars too but I will not deal with that here.
The motion continues:
“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED:
That the relevant Ministers of Government provide the National Assembly as early as possible with:
(a) A detailed report on the disposal by sale or otherwise of all state assets entrusted to NICIL and the Privatisation Unit, the terms on which they were disposed of and the criteria used;”
There is only one Minister who has responsibility in respect of NICIL and that is the Minister of Finance. So why is this motion calling on the entire Government to provide information about NICIL when it is a notorious fact that the Minister of Finance wields executive responsibility and parliamentary responsibility for NICIL? There again, a simple thing like that Mr. Greenidge could not have been more cautious about so as to correct. [Mr. Nagamootoo: Tell us where the billions of dollars went.] I will reply to you, Mr. Nagamootoo. I have a cheque in my pocket made payable to you by NICIL so I will deal with that just now. That will explain how many millions went. Relax.
Mr. Nagamootoo: May I enquire Sir, the amount of that cheque from Mr. Nandlall? He said he has a cheque for me.
Mr. Speaker: Are you clarifying quantum or...?
Mr. Nagamootoo: Yes. I will like to find out the quantum of that cheque from NICIL. I cannot wait to hear.
Mr. Speaker: It is good that we can have some...
Mr. Nandlall: I will not produce the cheque, Sir.
Mr. Speaker: You will not. The last Member to produce a cheque was the Minister of Home Affairs. So I thought you had something like that or a counterfoil.
Mr. Nandlall: Sir, I may employ the second step that the Minister of Home Affairs resorted to. He published the cheque in the newspaper. I prefer to use that route.
Mr. Ramjattan, at length, belaboured the point that he wants to know the basis upon which these assets were disposed, the mechanism which was used, and the policy which informed the process. My colleagues who spoke before me have explained that there is a privatisation policy framework document which was produced since 1993 and laid before this National Assembly. Mr. Ramjattan was a Member of this Assembly. Mr. Asgar Ally laid it. Mr. Nagamootoo was the Minister of Information at the time and yet the Members of the other side spoke as though this document does not exist.
Minister Irfaan Ali explained, at length, what obtained before and there was... This document is a direct product of the PPP/C 1992 Manifesto. We told the people, in 1992, that Mr. Greenidge was running a process that would not continue. It was a process whereby two rice mills – one at Black Bush Polder and one at Cane Grove – were sold by the Confidential Secretary to President Huge Desmond Hoyte. Some state assets were sold through the State Planning Secretariat and some were sold through an agency at the Ministry of Finance. So there were about five different agencies dealing with the dissipation and sale of assets - no known procedure, no known policy, no criteria, no methodology. Nobody knew on what basis they were sold. And Mr. Nagamootoo and Mr. Ramjattan were on this side when we committed to the people of this country that we will craft a policy that will forever guide this Administration in relation to privatisation of state assets and this is the document that we have been using since 1992.
The document states the policy. It speaks to the objectives of the policy. It sets out the guidelines for privatisation. It speaks to the modes of privatisation. It speaks to the institutional and regulatory framework and it lists, as a preliminary list of assets, the first set of assets which the Government had intended, at the time, to privatise. And then NICIL followed up with another document. We are hearing what happened since. Utilising the policy outlined in this document, NICIL has been doing the privatisation business.
In 2008, the Executive Director of NICIL, at a symposium held at the Pegasus Hotel, to which Members of this Assembly, at the time, were invited, as well as the press, this document was launched.
This document lists first of all every single transaction entered into by NICIL from 1993 to 2008. It identifies the property; it tells you how it was sold, whether by public tender, it tells the date the tender was received, it tells the date it was approved, it tells the price that it was sold for. All this information is public information. So, why is it that you come here and you convey to the press and the people of this country that you have no access to this document? All you have to do is read.
In anticipation and in preparation of this motion, as I was preparing, I was informed that there is another document similar to this which will bring us up to date from 2008 to 2011 of all the transactions entered into by NICIL, how it was done, when the bid was advertised, in which newspaper it was advertised, the date that it was advertised. All of that information again will be produced from 2008 to 2011. What else do you want? All you have to do is to read. I cannot force them to read, Mr. Speaker, I cannot!
This document is in the library of the Parliament. Dr. Ashni Singh gave an explanation and Mr. Irfaan Ali gave an explanation.
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Attorney General, you will do well to direct your arguments to me.
Mr. Nandlall: Sir, if I am holding up the documents in my hand and they are disputing its existence, much less if I am to say something.
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, I crave you indulgence. It is quite entertaining at times to listen to our colleagues engage in these sorts of histrionics. The point that I think is being misrepresented here is that we are not asking for information specific or only pre-2004. The law requires these agencies to submit within six months of the end of year, the documentation. He is not answering to that, but rather telling us about documents produced in 2004 and elsewhere.
Mr. Nandlall: Sir, my friend wants to amend his motion. Your honour you will notice that I am going paragraph by paragraph. I did not write this; he wrote this. He cannot stand now and try to amend it. All I am doing is going through paragraph by paragraph that which he has… [Interruption] Sir, he is disturbing me now, please.
Mr. Greenidge: I would happily leave the distinguished attorney general without disturbing him if he were to have read the document before he looked at it. He is reading to it now....
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Greenidge, we have to have a specific point of order. You have the right of reply. What is the point of the order? Allow the member to put his Point of Order.
Mr. Greenidge: I believe there is only one Speaker, Mr. Chairman. The dates for which the cover should apply are clearly specified in the document.
Mr. Speaker: As I said, Members should be given some latitude in their presentations. There is a right of reply inherent in the mover of the motion. Proceed Mr. Nandlall.
Mr. Nandlall: Sir, my friend’s motion then continues with a resolve clause. It says:
“BE IT RESOLVED that a report on all the fiscal concessions...”
since Noah was a little boy,
“...including duty free concessions granted in response to specific requests or as parts of contracts awarded by Tender Board and the criteria on which these awards were based to be placed before the National Assembly for review.”
Let me deal with the first part of that Resolved clause. My friend knows that there are Sectoral Committees. These Committees have great power scrutiny under the Constitution. He can simply request if there is particular contract to which he wishes to make reference, and he wants the details, I doubt whether any Minister of the Government will have any difficulty in providing specific information. This motion asks for every contract. How are we going to comply with this request? With due deference to the National Assembly, this task is an impossible one.
My friends ought to know by now that I am very junior in the Parliament; they are much senior than I am. They know that most of these contracts are funded through monies from financial agencies. These agencies, their contracts, have certain standard stipulations, some of them relate to duty free concession. They are standard thing. Then, the procurement, the way the contracts are awarded, we know that that is governed by the Procurement Tender and Administration Act. That Act is administered by public servants. There is a bidding process. The bid is opened to public for review. All those things are there, copies of the contracts and the bid documents can be accessed by any member of this National Assembly, more so by members of the public if they wish. They are all on the websites, I am being told.
Again, this aspect of the motion is wholly unnecessary and is really moving this Parliament in a futile exercise. Then, we have there that we must bring all these thousands of documents and dump them in the National Assembly for review. Review to what end? The National Assembly, as far as I am aware, has no power of review. Review has a particular connotation in my view. There are Sectoral Committees that have powers of review and they deal with sector by sector. Those bodies are established independently by the Constitution. Yes, they constitute Members of this Assembly, but they have their own Constitutional existence, and they have a special and specific constitutional mandate of scrutiny over Government’s business.
This National Assembly in an effort to review, if we accept my friend’s invitation, would be stepping into unchartered waters; it has no power. If my friend could stand up and point to the Constitution or point to the Standing Orders which says that this National Assembly has a power of review over contracts I will take my seat. It is now where, and we cannot imbue this Assembly sir, it is a creature of the Constitution, and we must ensure... [Mr. Ramjattan: We make the laws here.] Yes, you make the laws here and that is why you should behave in accordance with the law. You cannot make the law and then violate the very law which you have made. You have to set the example to ensure that you demonstrate to the Nation that the laws that you are passing, you have the willingness and capabilities of obeying them first before you expect the ordinary man in the streets to obey.
Therefore, I humbly submit, that this National Assembly has no power to review any contracts. In any event, this request in this Resolved clause is so vague that it is impossible to satisfy. All contracts and all concessions, we are talking about millions of contracts. So, the entire motion suffers from the various inconsistencies and deficiencies which I have identified. The problem is compounded by all of this. This motion was tabled before. All of this must be done before the first of June. Let us assume it is the first of July. You do not tell us what to bring, but you give us a mandate and a restriction. We must do it within so and so time. Do what? And who must do it? This is directed to all the members of the Government and all Ministers.
Yet, everything that I have said, all the documents that I have referred to and all the information which I say is available, Mr. Ramjattan continues to heckle me to say that I do not want to produce the document and that I am dodging. What is it you want? What else do you want? [Mr. Nagamootoo: Covering up.] And the other one is saying about covering up. NICIL’s lawyer is speaking about covering up. NICIL’s attorney at law is speaking about covering up. That is a breach. Sir, lawyers have certain fiduciary duties to their clients. You cannot receive monies as legal fees from NICIL and accuse NICIL of covering up. You cannot do that.
Mr. Nagamootoo: A Point of Order. The learned Attorney General...
Mr. Speaker: You can imbue under a Point of Order and clarification.
Mr. Nagamootoo: ...he has named me under receiving money from NICIL in this debate. I am entitled to an explanation since what has said could be very misleading. First he had said that he has a cheque in his pocket for me and now he has followed that up by saying that I am on NICIL’s payroll. Because that could be misleading, I ask you honour to crave your indulgence either for him to explain or withdraw those remarks, or will ask for permission to give an explanation. In fact I have been retained by NICIL on two projects for which the Hon. Members knows. He is trying to impute, one of them has made very glaring statements here, Mr. Irfaan Ali, that I have charged $2,500 at the Ministry for each conveyance processed... [Interruption] ... to have their transport. This Minister rose and tried to insinuate...
Mr. Speaker: Mr. Nagamootoo, one minute please. Hon. Members, firstly, statements have been elicited from heckling. Secondly, Mr. Nandlall did not say you Mr. Nagamootoo, he the other one is saying. What I will however allow at the end of Mr. Nandlall’s presentation is for you Mr. Nagamootoo, as I have done in the past for Mr. Greenidge, to make a statement. I would like the Minister to complete his presentation. At the end of his presentation I will permit you a few minutes to give a clarification on your position. I will not allow Minister Irfaan Ali to rebut anything, but I will caution you, Mr. Nagamootoo, not to impute or infer any kind of irregularity on the part of any other Minister. I will you that opportunity at the end.
Mr. Nagamootoo: I am grateful for you ruling, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker: If we were to tone the heckling down we will not get that crosstalk. That was really a barb thrown after the heckling continued.
Mr. Nandlall: Sir, I did say that Mr. Nagamootoo did legal work for NICIL. He was a lawyer for NICIL and did legal work for NICIL. That is a statement, and I do not wish to rescind from that. He was a lawyer and was paid by NICIL. We are dealing with the accountability of NICIL’s funds, so that should be part of the debate. That is all I said.
In conclusion, I humbly submit that this motion is unmeritorious; it should not have been brought here and it constitutes an abuse of the Parliamentary process. Thank you very much.
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