National Assets2558 13 Jun, 2012
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, I rise to make my contribution to the debate on this motion under the heading “National Assets” moved by the Hon. Member Mr. Carl Greenidge. Let me say at the onset that I associate myself with the comments made by my colleagues on this side of the House who have spoken before me and in particular those made most recently by the Hon. Attorney General in identifying the motion as fundamentally flawed without basis that is reasonable in describing the motion as unreasonable in its expectations and what it seeks to achieve and on a whole in rejecting the motion.
There are a number of premises on which this motion could be rejected. In fact, if one were to start from the beginning, from the very first “WHEREAS clause”, the motion engages in the vague speculation that the Opposition has now become so well known for. Indeed I believe it was my colleague the Hon. Minister of Housing who addressed this matter and pointed out that the motion, with no specificity whatsoever, randomly identifies two or three international agencies and makes the vague statement that these agencies, in unidentified recent reports, have rated Guyana poorly. I could take the position that this is unworthy of response because there is no specificity, there is no reference to a particular report, there is no effort whatsoever to actually identify which report is being referred to and what the particular report in question is saying. I could instead point out that if one wants to make reference to international reports then one must not be selective and identify only a report issued by one particular agency and ignore the plethora of other reports issued by several credible international agencies which have spoken of Guyana in glowing and positive terms. I make the point that Minister Ali made, and that is the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge did not even afford us the courtesy of a single specific reference. If one wanted to cite other references there is an abundance of alternatives, an abundance of reports issued by international agencies which all point to the credibility and soundness of the efforts made by this Government at managing the fiscal operations of Guyana. I have only to turn to Article 4 of the International Monetary Fund, Consultation for 2009. There are several references that I can select, but if I am just to select one paragraph I would quote as follows:
“Directors – this executive directors of the IMF – noted that Guyana has weathered the global crisis well, sustaining a solid macro economic performance, supported by prudent policies. Directors commended the authority’s commitment to further entrench macro-economic stability and fiscal sustainability while promoting long term growth and development to improve the country’s standard of living and reduce poverty.
I would quote further:
“Directors supported the authority’s commitment to maintain prudent policies and to continue to implement structural reforms in safeguarding fiscal sustainability.”
The International Monetary Fund is the agency charged with annual macro-economic surveillance of all its member countries.
I could equally turn to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Minister Ali made reference to their report and gave several examples but I will cite quotations he did not. This is the IDB speaking on the occasion of the Bank’s fiftieth anniversary in a publication entitled, ‘Guyana and the IDB Partners for Progress’, Chapter 4, ‘Fostering A Better Business Climate’, under the caption ‘Improving Governance Fiscal and Financial Reform’. This is what the IDB has to say:
“Over the last few years a vast programme of reforms was implemented to help the nation attain much needed fiscal sustainability. The reforms reworked tax policies and administration, modernized public financial management, and expanded the capacity of the audit office and the National Assembly committee on Economic Services to oversee fiscal and fiduciary matters. The programme was further aimed at transparency; the reforms often simplified outdated and unnecessary complex procedures…” etcetera.
In fact an entire section of this report is devoted to describing the outstanding achievements of the Government of Guyana in strengthening public financial management. These are reports that are identified. Not some vague reference, not some attempt to paint with a broad brush hoping that if a generalisation is made somehow people would be deceived into believing it. These are specific documents which are publicly available, issued by credible international agencies that speak very clearly to the responsibility demonstrated by this Government in strengthening management of public money.
In fact, if one were really to be honest one would arrive at the inescapable conclusion that the public financial management landscape has been completely transformed over the past ten years or so. Gone are the days when this National Assembly and the people of Guyana languished without a report from the Ministry of Finance or the Auditor General about the management of public money. Gone are those days! The Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge should know better than to come and to cast aspersions and make insinuations about the management of public assets when he presided over the management of Guyana’s economy and up to now has not said to the people of Guyana why audited public accounts were not produced and tabled in this National Assembly for the period from 1983 to 1992. Yet Mr. Greenidge comes to this House, conveniently ignores that period over which he presided, and conveniently ignores in his request for information his own tenure.
Let me explain the implications of the absence of audited accounts. For that period this House and the people of Guyana were not even told how much was collected in revenue, how much was incurred on expenditure. Today, all manner of detail is expected and requested, and indeed is provided. And we have no difficulty with that. In fact our tract record as it relates to the provision of information to this Hon. House is outstanding. If one looks at the vast volumes of documentation tabled in this House, the vast volumes provided in answers to questions, the vast reams and reams of documentation and hours of testimony provided before sectoral committees, Guyana is now living in a new era of openness, if we are to be honest. There has never been a time in the history of this country when more information about the public affairs and about management of the economy, and management of our country, has been placed in the public domain. That is something that can be quantified. One merely has to look at the Minutes of the National Assembly, one merely has to look at the records of the National Assembly with respect to documents tabled and one would see that recent Parliaments – the Eighth and Ninth – and now the Tenth Parliament have recorded a level of public disclosure that is completely and totally unprecedented in our country. That is something we must be proud of as a country.
If one were to look at the legislative accomplishments – the 2001 Constitution considerably strengthened Parliament’s oversight over the Executive; expanded the mandate of the Public Accounts Committee; established standing sectoral committees to exercise oversight over government activities; enhanced the independence of the Auditor General’s Office; established commissions for the protection of fundamental rights; and the list goes on. If one were to look at further legislative accomplishments there is the same Fiscal Management and Accountability Act which is so often referred to, the Public Procurement Act of 2003, and the Audit Act of 2004. These are legislative achievements of this Government – historic accomplishments. If one were to look at the implementation of technology to improve the effectiveness of public financial management there has been the computerising of the public expenditure management function, and the computerising of the tax administration function to ensure accuracy and timelier processing. All of these are accomplishments of which we should be proud as a country. If we want to have a frank and honest exchange in this National Assembly, and if the Opposition is sincere about an objective debate on any matter, they have to stop pretending that these achievements did not happen.
This motion is therefore, first of all, founded upon a false premise and that is the speculation and innuendo about transparency and lack of openness. In fact, I will go further and say that I find it extremely alarming that Members of the Opposition seem to believe that it is somehow acceptable to engage in, what I would describe as, the politics of innuendo and insinuation and intimidation.
I would say it is nothing short of vulgar the assault on NICIL, and the assault on its Executive Director. I will say it in this National Assembly for parliamentary record, that it is nothing short of vulgar the assault on the integrity of a public figure - not a politician - with no shred of evidence, no basis whatsoever, and no reference to which law is broken by the entity. It is a well known fact that NICIL is established under the Companies Act, is governed by the Companies Act, complies with the Companies Act, yet, the Opposition, and in particular the Alliance for Change, seems to think it is acceptable - Mr. Ramjattan himself has been doing this – to generate and fuel speculation on the basis of innuendo. This is a generated controversy, fabricated, and plucked out of thin air, solely for the purposes of capturing headlines. Well, I should not say solely for the purposes of capturing the headlines because I believe there is another aim, and I will speak about what that aim is.
There can be no denying that the achievements of NICIL have been outstanding under the executive directorship of Mr. Winston Brassington. There can be no denying. We should be proud as a country that NICIL, as the entity charged with management of public assets and in particular public equity investments, with local in house expertise were able to structure a complex transaction whereby US$40 million of private capital was utilised for investment in a public infrastructure project, the Berbice River Bridge. That is not something to be ashamed of, that is not something to besmirch, and that is not something to criticise. If we are serious about some kind of new politics, as the Opposition likes to say that it is, then we must be bold enough to come out and say we believe this is a good thing and those who were responsible for its achievement are to be commended. There can be no doubt that the Berbice River Bridge is a project that has transformed this country. Speak to the investors, speak to the commuters… [Mr. Ramjattan: Transfer 34 million to Clico.] So what caused Clico’s collapse in Trinidad, and in Barbados? Was it the Berbice River Bridge? Stop misleading the people of Guyana. What caused Clico in Trinidad to collapse? What caused Clico in the Bahamas and Suriname to collapse? Was it the Berbice River Bridge? Stop misleading the people of Guyana Mr. Ramjattan. [Mr. Ramjattan: Inaudible] So did all the Clico subsidiaries in the Caribbean. But it is exactly this kind of innuendo and insinuation… Mr. Ramjattan wants this country to believe that Clico Trinidad, Clico Suriname, Clico Jamaica and Clico Barbados all collapsed because of the Berbice River Bridge. Utter nonsense! But this is what I call the politics of insinuation and innuendo which Mr. Ramjattan is…
Mr. Greenidge: Mr. Speaker, is it not the fact that the amounts were lost?
Dr. Singh: So Mr. Speaker this flawed premise makes this motion completely unacceptable. There are a number of other provisions in this motion that I will submit to you which make this motion completely unacceptable to this House. I note, for example, that the motion seeks to make financial provisions available for the commissioning of an independent audit. It is a well known fact that this entity is audited by the Auditor General. The Auditor General is the auditor of the public sector by law. It is a well known convention that the Auditor General audits public entities, and only where the Auditor General sees it fit to contract another auditor he does so under the law. But I would go further and say there is a well known constitutional provision, and a well known Standing Order which is derived from the Constitution, that says no bill and no motion shall be proceeded upon by this National Assembly if it seeks to provide for the imposing of a charge on the Consolidated Fund or any other public fund or for the payment, issue or withdrawal from the Consolidated Fund or any other public fund of Guyana. Article 171(2) of the Constitution states no motion or bill shall be proceeded upon except with the recommendation or consent of the Cabinet signified by a Minister. This motion has not received the benefit of Cabinet consideration but yet the motion seeks, contrary to the Constitution, and contrary to Standing Order No. 25… [Interruption] The Constitution at Article 171(2) says “no bill or motion shall be proceeded upon…” and there is another Standing Order which says “no bill or motion shall be proceeded upon if it provides for expenditure to be incurred.” This is what this motion seeks to do making the motion unacceptable. Then those on that side of the House and particularly my friends in the corner from which most of the noise is emanating … I hear one of my colleagues say empty noises. Yet our friends in the corners of the House like to speak about compliance with the law. It is the Constitution, the supreme law of the land that says that this clause is unacceptable in this motion. But they have no difficulty with that. When violation of the law suits their fancy, their convenience, they have no difficulty with it. That is not responsible leadership, it is instead lawlessness.
Mr. Speaker: It is that witching hour. Are you going to wrap up or adjourn until tomorrow?
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, I am quite happy to continue at the next sitting.
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