A few weeks ago, a little after Hammy Greene received his national honour, Order of Roraima, the nation’s second highest honor – and during an investigation into what is being described as a conflict of interest involving a conflation of his Mayoral duties with that of husband, Guyana Times ran a story that the Guyana Chronicle didn’t think of sharing with its readers.
Apparently, Hammy’s wife, owner of Jelante Pharmacy, owed the city $10.2 million in taxes and Hammy, in the capacity of swashbuckling husband who happened to wear a Lord Mayor cape, was demanding that his wife be reimbursed the taxes because the money was not really taxes but the result of systemic harassment by then Town Clerk Sooba whose assignment was to keep Hammy’s nuts secured tightly in a vice.
According to Hammy, the money was “extracted in violation of Council’s decision” ( his, as Mayor) and was an “injustice” against this citizen, who just happened to be his wife. All this is on tape as minutes of a Mayor and City Council meeting. In the end, though, Jennifer Basdeo -Green, decidedly the better half of Hammy, paid off the back taxes in November of 2014, even though Hammy had said it was never taxes but the political shake down of his nemesis Carol Sooba.
It was under this cloud and with his deplorable record as Mayor of Georgetown -which needs no underscoring- that Hammy was selected as recipient of the nation’s second highest honor and it is against this very speckled résumé that we are now examining his most recent appointment – Chairman of the Board of Directors of Central Housing and Planning.
The concern here is that this will be a direct conflict of interest since Hammy will be responsible for approving the plans for construction, at the City Council level, then again, at the Housing and Planning level, a situation in which Hammy’s personal interests could benefit from his official actions or influence – a conflict of interest if there ever was one, making the whole business a complete mockery.
And, we’re not accusing him of wrong doing but we may want to recall that these types of jobs, the ones with beneficial conflicts, tend to follow him, even if he got a national award and wore a Lord Mayor chain for two decades and was Prime Minister from 1985 to 1992.
There is an unspoken acceptance of Nepotism in government; a certain degree that is tolerable but what people vehemently reject is the abuse of it; when it escalates to obnoxious excess.
This was the kind of political skulduggery that was condemned when it was done by the PPP and of, necessity, must suffer the same fate under the Granger government because it is a violation of the fiduciary trust of the people ; irrespective of which government does it.
Honoring Hamilton Green was political gratuity; currency deposited in the central bank of the PNC /PNCR. We accept that. It was the cost of doing business…nepotism within the boundary of obnoxious excess…even with his record as the most ineffective mayor of Georgetown who found more political gain by prostrating himself at the cross of the government he double crossed – the PPP- than in abdicating his Lord Mayor chair.
Maybe he had unfinished business to tidy up, like covering up the $10.2 million dollars in back taxes that his wife owed the city. Maybe, there will be more if the forensic auditors are ever sent to the Town Hall but with the degrees of nepotism that have been established as tolerable, forensic recovery at City Hall on issues involving Hammy may not make the headlines…
…Which brings us to Richard Van West Charles, whose name is more associated with his annexed relationship to the late President Burnham by marriage to his daughter, than it is for the position he has just been gifted by the government.
Mr. Van West Charles may, also, be more remembered for his dab into politics- when his political ambitions dared him to think of party leadership en route to being President of the country -than for his knowledge of water management.
Now, given our acceptance of Nepotism, the fact that it is political currency, what is the purpose of buying a Van West Charles? Even though Nigel Hinds, Chairman of the Water Incorporated attests to him having the “requisite acumen” we are still not sure what he brings to the table of water supply.
The list of “acumen” that Hinds supplies are appointments and qualifications, none of which relate, specifically, exclusively or directly to water management. There is reference to Van West Charles’ assignment as Minister of Health during his father in law’s government – an assignment that was viewed as nepotic then, as part of selective grooming and copious reference to the boards and water authorities he has sat on throughout the Caribbean – Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Bermuda.
As impressive as these appointments may seem to Chairman Hinds, none of them stand out as being specifically helpful to Guyana’s water problem.
Bermuda depends on rainwater harvesting through a limestone roofing system. Guyana has zinc roofs, no access to mass amounts of limestone and no centralized system of rain water collection.
Cayman Islands has a system that desalinates its sea water, removes the salt, then pumps that into homes. Guyana has no system for desalination, especially since it gets its water from the ground via a well system.
And, Jamaica has the same water woes Guyana does, so we hope he doesn’t bring his Jamaican experience to Guyana.
The opportunity cost of nepotism is getting the job professionally done. Countries with reputable potable water service tend to forego political appointments for professional hire. Typically, the Chief Executive officer will have a civil or mechanical engineering degree. They will have an environmental engineering degree, as well. Experience, for the Chief Executive Officer post would include design and construction of water and waste water infra structure, planning, design and construction management of water and sewer management projects, all of which would make Van West Charles’ medical degree irrelevant and his Masters degree in Public Health, just peripheral.
And, be that as it may, the question still lingers, what is the purpose of reusing Mr. Van West Charles in a government that campaigned on moving Guyana beyond the atrocities of the former administration? Why him, when there are dozens of Guyanese with requisite qualifications, working knowledge of water systems, proven experts in environmental science, available at the asking? Why more politics with this Van West Charles, if they looking to move the country and, I dare say, party beyond the political buoys that are too far inland?
The last twenty three years of government gave us a multi dimensional view of the effects of nepotism. We saw what giving a multi million dollar fiber optic deal to Alexei Ramotar did to tax payers and the image of the PPP government. We saw how the gifting of land to Pradovillian politicians tainted the PPP and its politicians. We saw the damage Jagdeo’s contract with Bobby Ramroop’s Guyana Pharmaceutical did to those who had to use the expired medications delivered by this company which had the monopoly on medications to the Public Hospital Systems. We saw what gratuitous assignments did to our education system and the legal system is still being held hostage by a curry favoring Director of Public Prosecution and an Acting Chief Justice whose political leanings leave no questions.
For many, this Coalition represented the prototype to propel us in to the political future. To sit tight lipped and to look the other way when we see them committing the same acts the ousted regime committed against the citizens of Guyana would be to invalidate all of our efforts, all the ways, all of the things we did to help promote and propel them forward.
I began by stating that there is a threshold of tolerance to nepotism and it is typically considered an abuse when it reaches obnoxious excess.
Recycling Hammy and reusing Van West Charles moves the needle to the right of this mark.