Caution: Bridge Company helping to sink leaking NIS

Recently the NIS has made news on two scores: the first that it will not receive any dividends on its investment in preference shares in the Berbice Bridge Company Inc., and the second that there are more than 1,500,000 contributions which have not been credited to the workers’ account.

I was disappointed rather than shocked when I saw Ms. Doreen Nelson, General Manager of the NIS, sitting passively next to her Chairman Dr. Roger Luncheon announcing that persons were not coming forward to help clear up the contribution mess in the NIS. Ms. Nelson knows that his statement contradicts the experiences of many contributors who try, sometimes for years, to persuade the NIS that the contributions recorded in its records are less, sometimes significantly so, than the actual contributions they have made over their decades of working life and contributions.

A client has been engaged in frustrating correspondence for more than four years persuading the management of the Scheme that his entitlement is a pension rather than an Old Age grant. I myself have had fifteen telephone calls to Ms. Nelson over the matter and all I hear is that the NIS is looking into it. Frustrated with the delay, the poor fellow travelled to Guyana from the USA over the Christmas holidays only to be told that it was Christmas time and the matter would have to wait until the holidays were over!

I reported this to the General Manager several weeks ago. She said that was not good.
Continue reading Caution: Bridge Company helping to sink leaking NIS

DDL Annual Report 2014

The Stabroek News article on the performance of DDL for the year 2014 (S/N 03-24-15 DDL’s after-tax profit up 38.4%) comes three days before the annual general meeting (AGM) of the company. DDL has three institutional investors holding more than 5% of its issued shares – Trust Company (Guyana) Limited (20.58%), with which it shares some common directors, Secure International Finance Co Ltd (18.32%), a Beharry Group company, and the NIS (8%).

In most western countries the directors of public companies respect, if not fear, their institutional investors. Those directors are mindful of the consequences on share value of the disposal of a significant block of shares by any dis-satisfied institutional investor. To avoid that, it is very common for them to meet with their institutional investors before any major decision or action.

In those countries too, annual reports are expected to comply not only with laws but also with regulations and best practices. By contrast, Guyana companies seem less interested and are willing to take more risks with disclosure while institutional investors are perhaps the most silent group of shareholders, never asking a single question of the directors, or ever trying to influence company decisions. The casual observer can be forgiven for believing that there is some unwritten, unholy understanding by institutional investors not to interfere in the company’s business.

Consequently, the responsibility to carry out the searching analysis of the annual reports of public companies falls on the press since the small shareholder seldom has the expertise to do so for herself. The task is even greater when the company fails to meet the disclosure requirements of the law and regulations, or where its reporting is contradictory, or sometimes clouded in strange language.

For these reasons shareholders and the public would have appreciated reading beyond all the positives disclosed in the DDL Chairman’s report. I have always faulted this company for the ambiguity and confusion caused by its deliberate or inadvertent choice of words in reporting on its performance. For example, readers are often left wondering whether references to performance are to volumes or value, and are confused by the unexplained relationship between the Chairman’s statement that in Caribbean markets the brands experienced growth of 28% while the financial statements disclose a decline in revenue of 24%.

Shareholders would also like to know, and have a right to adequate explanation for growth of 25% in the US market but a fall in profits from $36 million to $2 million, and why the already statutorily inadequate information given for the US subsidiary is not given for the Canadian subsidiary for which all the reader is told is that DDL’s brands increased by 35%.

The Companies Act requires the directors of holding companies to give a report on the affairs of their subsidiaries – not just the after-tax profits of a select few. It says a lot about DDL’s disclosure policies that NICIL, hardly ever considered a model of accounting and reporting, has better disclosures on its subsidiaries than DDL does.

Atlantic Hotel Inc: Lies and deception from Brassington.

- total audit of project needed

The known…
Even as the construction of the Marriott Hotel nears completion and the opening soon but uncertain, the role of Winston Brassington, Chairman and CEO of Atlantic Hotel Inc., continues to raise serious questions about his honesty and integrity and those he retains to speak for him. Indeed as recent as Sunday January 18, I have had cause to expose the lack of integrity on his part and that of his spokesperson Mr. Kit Nascimento when they created a fictional column for me.

It is public knowledge that the hotel’s construction has been financed mainly from the proceeds of the sale of Government shares in the Guyana Telephone & Telegraph Company Ltd. and from other public resources diverted to or vested in the company through means that many consider completely illegal. It is also public knowledge that the National Assembly passed a motion on December 17, 2012 that, among other things, neither NICIL nor Atlantic Hotel Inc. incur further expenditure on the Hotel Project without the authorisation and approval of the National Assembly. Needless to say, the directors and officers of NICIL and AHI have ignored that motion.

It is known that the Hotel has been granted concessions rare to any entity in Guyana – even Queens Atlantic, Jagdeo’s people. Those concessions, in addition to land at below market price, are no more than crude government subsidies. It is also known that the contractor has been allowed, illegally, exemptions from the laws of Guyana which even the diplomatic community does not enjoy. Central to and facilitating every well-known violation associated with the company is Winston Brassington. See Soul for Sale series of articles on beginning February 17, 2013.
Continue reading Atlantic Hotel Inc: Lies and deception from Brassington.

Challenging the Jagdeo myth

Mr. Carl Greenidge, Finance Minister in the PNC Administration has been one of the chief targets of the PPP/C since 2011 for what they claim to be his mismanagement of the economy prior to 1992. This claim is at best one-sided and at worst totally dishonest, completely ignoring the performance of the economy when Greenidge demitted office in 1992. Perhaps as the calypsonian Chalkdust sang: “they ‘fraid Carl”.

A question for the PPP/C is if the Economic Recovery Programme (ERP) which they in opposition had dubbed Empty Rice Pot was so bad, why did they not replace it? The truth is that the ERP negotiated by Greenidge with the IMF and other international lenders and donors placed Guyana on a trend where its economic growth rate was well above anything the country has ever witnessed, before or after. Asgar Ally, riding on the wave of debt write offs initiated by Greenidge, kept the economy roaring until he was undermined by then Junior Finance Minister Bharrat Jagdeo.
Continue reading Challenging the Jagdeo myth

The Consolidated Fund is not a medical insurance pool for ministers and their families

The first hint that the government was financing cosmetic treatment for those close to the party arose out of Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s astonishing conversation with the Kaieteur News reporter a couple of months ago. What we did not know until we learnt of Pauline Sukhai’s designer mouth job was that the scheme might even extend to visits to the manicurist.

The health of every citizen is, of course, important and there should be no trivializing. Ironically, the health minister’s reimbursement of a medication bill for $1,000 does exactly that, which is regrettable since every employer has a duty to provide a minimum standard of health coverage for its employees. I believe too that a government has a duty to provide medical service to its people.

What I certainly do not subscribe to is the suggestion that the Consolidated Fund is some contrived pool of insurance for ministers, their families, their friends, members of the judiciary and ranking members of the Audit Office. Sadly, that is exactly how it now appears following the leak of information on the secret scheme operated by the Cabinet.

The publication of the information is a triumph of the people versus the state. That bit of enterprise is worth more that the entire budget of the Office of the Commissioner of Information. Predictably, the PPP/C assumed the role of victim when the information was revealed by our more enterprising media. Happily, what the PPP/C did of course was to confirm the veracity of the information and plead then patient confidentiality to justify their rape of the public purse.

I believe the reporting of the information by the press reflected responsible and commendable journalism. I saw nothing to support the claim of breach of patient confidentiality but rather I saw a significant step in support of whistleblowing legislation. Later this week too, the press provided us with information on a scheme by the Cabinet to transfer money properly payable into the Consolidated Fund to a project under the control of the Housing Ministry. The press played a big hand in causing the government to rethink its position and at week’s end it seemed to be totally confused. Two strikes for the press.

It was perhaps coincidental but it was July last year that I had cause to write a letter to the press in which I questioned the role of Cabinet in adjudicating over the health issues of citizens. My letter was prompted by the death of a family member, 57-year old Basdeo Gobin, who died while his application for assistance languished among Cabinet’s papers. The letter was carried in the Stabroek News of July 21, 2014 under the caption ‘Why does Cabinet have to deliberate on cases of persons needing urgent medical help?’

The same Cabinet that failed to respond to a request for a contribution to the cost of a heart operation which might have saved the life of a poor man, could pay for all sorts of vanity expenditure for ministers and senior party members. This is socialism that even George Orwell could not predict: where all people are equal, some are more equal than others, and a handful are more equal than all combined.

On the list of beneficiaries are the Prime Minister and his wife, ministers, former ministers, presidential advisers, senior government auditor and the wife of a minister, a sitting judge of the Court of Appeal and the country’s attorney general. Despite all the questions asked, no one has put in the public domain the rules and the procedures for the government medical assistance scheme and indeed the relationship between that scheme and the medical scheme offered by the National Insurance Scheme.

I am aware of the convention that judges do not engage in public exchanges and I do respect that. But I believe that when a sitting judge seeks out discretionary benefits from the executive, whether in the form of medical assistance or other facilities, they run the serious and real risk of compromising not just themselves but the entire judiciary.

My question to Justice B S Roy is whether he considered the implications of accepting discretionary benefits from the Cabinet of Guyana. I would ask the same question of Mrs Gitanjali Singh, the Deputy Auditor General in the Audit Office, who the public believe is already compromised by remaining with the Audit Office while her husband is the Minister of Finance.

Additional questions I would have for Mrs Singh are whether a) she is aware of any documentation to regulate the operation of the scheme; b) the specific source of the funds; c) the specific bank account from which the payment is made; d) confirmation that it is not one of the many slush funds operated out of the Office of the President; and e) whether she can give the public a single instance of the annual report of the Audit Office commenting on this scheme.

I would also ask the following questions of both Justice Roy and Mrs Singh:

– Would they have accepted the benefits if they knew that the information would become public?
– Was the right of access to the scheme part of their compensation package?
– Should such payments not be covered by personal insurance?
– Did they decide not to have medical insurance?
– Do they consider it fair to expect taxpayers to meet their medical bills because they choose not to have medical insurance?
– What was the procedure they employed in accessing the benefits?
– Was the amount paid the full amount spent by them?
– Was it a requirement that they meet part of the costs of their medical expenses?
– Do they believe that the scheme should be revamped?
– Do they believe that every person should have the same rights and privileges under the scheme?

Finally, a question to Mr Nandlall. He had said in the press that he had paid back the $4 million he received from the scheme. Would he confirm that he has in fact done so and explain why he would return money to which he was entitled?