By Navendra Seoraj
OVER $20 billion in “illegal contracts” issued by the former APNU+AFC administration over the past year will be investigated by the new People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) government.
Government’s intention was made known by Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill during his presentation of a State of Expenditure for January1-Spemeber 30, 2020, to the National Assembly.
In fulfilment of its commitment to upholding the Constitution of Guyana, a Statement of Expenditure was prepared ahead of the passage of the Appropriation Bill and pursuant to Article 219 (3) which states: “…But a statement of the expenditure so authorised shall, as soon as practicable be laid before the National Assembly by the minister responsible for finance or any other minister designated by the President and when the statement has been approved by the assembly, that expenditure shall be included, under appropriate heads in the next Appropriation Bill.”
“There was no Appropriation Bill for the early part of 2020, but there was massive spending authorised by former Minister of Finance Winston Jordan for the fiscal year 2020,” said Minister Edghill.
On December 21, 2018, the then parliamentary opposition, PPP/C, by way of a no-confidence motion, toppled the APNU+AFC government.
The opposition had secured the support of then government Member of Parliament Charrandass Persaud to get an edge over the government in the House. For months, after the passage of the motion by the National Assembly, the matter had engaged all the local courts.
“During this period [after the passage of the motion] the law conferred upon the coalition government a caretaker status only. However, instead of complying with the constitution, the then APNU+AFC administration challenged the validity of the no-confidence motion all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). That litigation alone cost taxpayers over $100 million in legal fees,” said Edghill.
Their “caretaker status” was established by international conventions and best practices, and was upheld in the rulings and orders of the CCJ on June 18 and July 12, 2019.
In speaking about what obtained, Edghill said: “Notwithstanding [SIC], they violated every tenet of that status, not only by plundering the Treasury, but by engaging in massive disposal of state assets, engaging both multilateral and bilateral partners, as well as local financial institutions and borrowing huge sums of money.
SERIES OF NEFARIOUS ACTIVITIES
“They also engaged in a series of nefarious activities in complicity with elements within the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) in their attempts, not only to delay constitutionally due elections, but to corrupt those elections and deny Guyanese the right to choose their legitimate representatives in government, in a transparent, free and fair electoral process.”
The minister said it can be clearly established that since the passage of the no-confidence motion to August 2, 2020, when the new administration took office, $419.2B of public funds was expended by a government that should have only been functioning in a caretaker capacity, with limited powers and according to the constitution, spending only on public services.
Further, the government continued to undertake expenditure well beyond the realm of ensuring the provision of basic public services, within the allowable caretaker status and in violation of Sections 36 (2) and (3) of the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act.
“We observed that during this period, as an example, a contract totalling US$10.4 million, which was funded by a loan from the Islamic Development Bank, was entered into in June 2020. We further observed that there was an unconstitutional withdrawal of $10.8 billion from the Consolidated Fund, which was disbursed to the Guyana Power and Light Inc,” Minister Edghill lamented.
Additionally, the new government recognised the signing and awarding of new capital projects in the year 2020. For example, BK International was awarded a contract in the sum of $826.8 million for a school on the Soesdyke-Linden Highway and several other civil-work contracts for work on the $1.6 billion Infectious Disease Hospital, a property not owned by the government.
Further, $20.1 billion of roll-over contracts were carried into 2020, with $14.4 billion programmed for expenditure this year. These included contracts that were signed on December 31, 2019, with full knowledge that sums could not be expended in 2019 and would be a roll-over to 2020, said Minister Edghill.
While government acknowledged that simultaneous with this unconstitutionality, Guyana was also battling a pandemic. But the minister said breaches to the Procurement Act were ‘numerous’ and ‘injurious’ to the country’s financial well-being.