Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sanata Complex deal stinks to ‘high heavens’…officials should all be charged and placed in jail-AFC

Sanata Complex deal stinks to ‘high heavens’…officials should all be charged and placed in jail-AFC
Kaieteur News. August 1, 2008 | News

The Fiscal Enactments (Amendment) Bill 2008 that was successfully presented to the National Assembly yesterday attracted several hours of lively debate, especially in the context of the recently entered into deal regarding Queens Atlantic Investment Incorporated (QAII) on the Sanata Textile Complex in Industrial Site, Ruimveldt.

“It stinks to high heavens…Officials should all be charged and placed in jail…if a Minister breaks the law then there must be a price to pay.”

Those were among some of the comments uttered yesterday by members of the opposition benches.

People’s National Congress Reform Shadow Finance Minister, Winston Murray opened the floor after Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh presented the Bill.

According to Murray, he had several difficulties with the piece of legislation among which was the fact that there was a lot of vagueness in it with regards a number of words entailed in the Bill such as Demonstrably, Developmental and Risk bearing among others.

He also noted the fact that the previous legislation had taken from the President the unfettered authority to grant tax holidays to investors and the amendments in the current Bill sought to “in essence” reinstate it to the Minister of Finance.

He also questioned the fact that clauses that allowed the Minister to use his discretion in sectors and regions not named in the Bill were only subject to negative resolution of the National Assembly.

The first reference of the day to the QAII deal as it relates to the resolution came from Murray who noted that the legislation only came to the House in wake of sustained criticism of the grant of the concessions.

This, he noted, was that in the Minister’s opening argument he pointed to the fact that the Principal Act contained several errors namely typographical and numerical in nature.

“It has remained in the Act for the last five years and he (Finance Minister) never sought to correct it.”

He added that any doubts that he may have had that the two were related were laid to rest following the privatization and taxation seminar where the head of the Guyana Office for Investment, Geoff Da Silva said that, “We made a mistake and thought that it was covered in the law.”

According to Murray, “Confession is good for the soul…I hope that he (Da Silva) does not suffer any adverse consequences.”

The Shadow Minister noted that he was aware that the agreement was signed by the Minister of Finance, Dr Ashni Singh and if there was a breach in law then there must be a price to pay.

His comments were reflective of the Head of State announcing that if a forestry company recently accused of breaking the law was found to be guilty then it must be made to face the law.
“There cannot be double standards.”

Murray, however, sought to emphasise the fact that his party did not seem to detract from the investment or was not targeting the investment but the process should have been a lot more transparent.”

“What is our concern is the granting of concessions that were illegal and had no place in the legal system…this law seeks to cover some aspects that were done outside of the law.”

According to Murray, apart from covering the QAII concessions it gives back to the Minister a power that were taken from the President. “It creates enough flexibility to almost absolute discretion.”

Regarding the power that was presented to the Minister, Alliance for Change Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan told the National Assembly that the divesting of discretion was necessary because of its corruption influence — the position of the PPP/C in 2003.

He added that when Yesu Persaud suggested to the President at the launching of the Guyana Times that there must be a broad dissemination of concessions, he was put down by a belligerent President.

“Mr Persaud’s request was a balanced and justified call for a level playing field…Government doesn’t want any challenges to its actions.”

He posited that it was the events at that seminar that caused the legislation to be laid in Parliament noting that the circumstances surrounding the investment, “stinks to high heavens.”

He told the National Assembly that it is only now that stakeholders are aware that after there were no suitable tenders for the Sanata complex deal that the government approached the QAII investors.
“Why this investor? Was it because he was a friend?”

A World Bank report had stated that in Guyana some 15 per cent of the value of contracts awarded by the government was paid as bribes to officials.

He added that it was now known that what was advertised for and what was actually arrived at were different. He questioned what the appealing part of the investment was.

“I hope that it was the Bio technology and textile aspect of the deal that was appealing because it caused them to lose track of the legality. They are not saying it is wrong; they are saying the law was wrong…They should all be fired.”

Ramjattan went on to say that upon ardent perusal of the law he noticed that if an official was found guilty of colluding to defraud the government then that official should be fined $2M and sent to prison for three years

“Officials should all be charged and placed in jail.”

PPP Member of Parliament, Irfan Alli, told the National Assembly that the tax holiday was not illegal in that it was only announced and not brought into force as yet given that the process was only started. This was confirmed by Dr Singh following the passage of the deal.

When confronted by this newspaper, Singh said that the legislation will in no way affect the tax holiday arrangement for QAII.

The AFC Chairman, however, insisted that for the Finance Minister to sign documents purporting to grant tax holidays for the investor knowing that the law did not provide for it was criminal and that he should be charged and placed before the courts.

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