The easier place to start is Robert Corbin’s questioning of the sale of twenty percent of the Government’s shares in Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company. It’s easier to start here because the shares were generating a consistent 2.5 million dividend for the Guyana Treasury. The sale was reportedly made to Atlantic Telecommunications Network, ATN, parent company of Guyana Telephone and Telegraph Company.
But the transaction involved too many of the usual suspects.
This time, Winston Brassington of National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, NICIL, fame had supposedly brokered this deal with ATN because advisory fees to mange those few shares, were akin to a king’s ransom and by the time he decided that selling the government’s shares in the country’s telecommunication sector was best for the country, 15 billion in advisory fees had already been paid.
Brassington may have been commended for his hawk – like oversight for this one except that all of the Board members of this NICIL that made this decision on behalf of the citizens were current cabinet members.Then Finance Minister, Ashni Singh, was the one tasked with passing this decision to sell through the Privatization Board of which he, Ashni Singh, was Chairman.
It couldn’t be more brazen, this orchestrated multi – dimensional conflict of interest that had all the elements of wily vagabondry and administrative racketeering.
But it was becoming uncomfortable and the various defenders of the deeds were beginning to babble.
Then President Jagdeo began explaining that Guyana was merely a passive owner of the shares of GT&T and that the money from the sale could buy computers for poor families and purchase more band width, amongst other things, in the sector.
And then the sale wasn’t really made to ATN. It was made to Datang, a company associated with China’s communist party, for the sum of USD 30 million dollars with 25 million paid up front and five million to be paid within two years.
Reputable Guyanese Accountant Christopher Ram has calculated that the $30 million price tag was a giveaway of $10 million USD since it should have been priced at $40 million. There is also speculation that the swift and reckless actions by NICIL to effect this strange sale was to cover the illegal diversion of funds from the country’s Consolidated Fund to the illegally operating NICIL.
While this was going on, the Jagdeo government had begun some fiber optic deals with Suriname’s Telesur and with Brazil’s OI and the landing of the submarine fiber optic cables on Guyana’s soil were much celebrated events.
The problem with this was that the Fibre Optic installation was assigned to President Ramotar’s son, Alexi Ramotar, whose chronology on the reasons why he failed to install any viable fiber optic cable in Guyana remains more provable than his qualifications as a fiber optic engineer. It cost Guyanese tax payers hundreds of millions of dollars to find this out. And in the end, he blamed his lack of knowledge on the use of Guyanese labour… as opposed to Chinese.
Project Managers with Dads in right places. Public Tenders attended only by Finance Ministers and Board Members. Millions of dollars spent on labour that produced no finished product. Allegations of government improprieties and a President who pretended that the fiber optic venture was all about expanded broad band width and improved telephony.
The Fiber Optic project is a beleaguered one inherited from a PPP government that seemed bewildered by proprieties but be that as it may it didn’t help when the Coalition Government’s Minister of Presidency paid a visit to China to collect the USD 5 million from Datang, with a team that was purportedly conducting other business.
There is an apprehension for China by many in Guyana that should be the barometer for government involvement with this country….which still clings to the tag line of ‘developing’, but has enough financial and industrial means to make parasitical investments in the key sectors of real developing countries.
It’s not serendipitous that China has secured the rights to too much of Guyana’s forests, has inveigled its way into a path to citizenship for its nationals, has bartered for trading license to flood Guyana’s consumer market with substandard products that will fail importation standards in Western Countries and Europe. The school age teenagers who act as service representatives in their stores that sell their substandard product are not a legitimate part of Guyana’s labour force so these quasi business ventures are not contributing to employment or taxable income when they hire these children who should be getting an education to help boost the country’s human capital.
The recent trip to China was justifiable according to the press releases but there is still no definitive word on whether the Chinese paid the collectors the outstanding USD 5 million. There is still no word on whether the Guyana Revenue Authority contingent that traveled to China for a demonstration of scanning equipment has determined said equipment’s viability for service in Guyana. There is no statement on whether the trip resulted in the creation of more contracts, placing Guyana in further hock to that developing country, China.
So, now that there is a resuscitation of the Fiber Optic telecommunications project, given its history, there is due unease. Minister Hughes has announced that the Ram and McRae’s audit of the operation from March 2012 to May 2015 has been analyzed and accepted. That means that the skulduggery that was the main characteristic of this project has been recorded and reviewed and should provide an ethics map, moving forward.
The system of employing contract workers that was inherited from the PPP should, therefore, not be followed strictly because it was an inheritance. Workers should be contracted commensurate with skill set, not as campaign reward and especially in highly skilled areas like Fiber Optic technology which requires definite know how. That would be key to ensuring that this Administration, unlike its predecessor, does not mismanage the spending of government funds on a project that cannot be executed because of lack of required skill.
If the resuscitation of the Fiber Optic venture involves augmenting the involvement of Datang and possibly Huawei, caution could not be underscored enough and for a variety of reasons.
The ambiguities in China’s relationship with Guyana have created fertile ground for politicians. It has not done much to improve the lot of Guyanese, even though Guyana’s leaders, over several decades, under the Administrations of both leading parties, have been genuflecting at the altar of China in the name of nation building and as a matter of ideology.
At a 2013 conference, President Xijingping likened China to a sleeping lion but “peaceful, pleasant and civilized”. It was a reworking of a quote attributed to Napolean Bonaparte, centuries earlier, prophesying on China’s later political ferocity.
Xijingping’s illustration was not new imagery, not unusual ambition for this country whose economy is 65 times larger than it was in 1974; whose defence budget is 132 billion, estimated conservatively; whose insertion and formidability in the financial markets of the world continue on an upward trajectory.
It’s a rhetoric China repeats with disarming charm but with clever calculation to appear to be its brother’s keeper while it ignores major initiatives like climate change and pollution control. Because, correcting their manufacturing emissions would mean using more expensive products and procedures which would dig deeply in to the profit margin that will one day elevate them to that Super Power mountain top.
China has definite ambitions to be the world’s tour de force and its generosity towards needy countries is not without design to entrap and exploit.
Making Sino -skepticism Guyana’s trade mark would be a good strategy to begin China’s disinvestment from Guyana.
And it can only begin with this Administration.