Sale of 950M preference shares by NICIL does not alter response to PSC

The Private Sector Commission (PSC) in its most recent statement (December 20, 2013) on the Berbice Bridge Company Inc was unwilling to acknowledge writing the following on December 11: “As far as we are aware, the Government directly or indirectly has no investment in, or liability relating to, the [Berbice River] bridge at this time.” Seen as a crudely disguised political response to APNU’s call for reduced toll charges across the Berbice River, the statement drew questions from some of the PSC’s membership about the process leading up to its issue.

Instead of addressing the concerns whether the December 11 statement was authorised by the PSC’s executive rather than authored at the behest of one member of the executive, the PSC after an unsuccessful investigation into an email “leak” chose intrigue, diversion, distortion and deception. Its latest offering reveals that NICIL has sold to the National Insurance Scheme 950 million worth of preference shares in the Berbice Bridge Company Inc, which itself never acknowledged the existence, let alone the ownership of those shares, even in statutory filings signed by then Company Secretary Winston Brassington.

The sale does not alter the factual nature of my earlier response to the PSC’s statement. This is what I said in relation to ownership of shares in BBCI: “What this means is that the Government, inclusive of the NIS, owns 76% of the issued shares of the company.” It is hard to believe that the PSC does not know that a transfer from one government controlled entity (NICIL) to another (NIS) does not alter the government’s direct and indirect investment in the issued shares of BBCI. Does the PSC truly believe that being an “institutional investor” in the Bridge Company alters the legal nature and status of the NIS? And does it not agree that following the sale, the NIS now owns 76% of the issued shares in the company?

The PSC refuses to acknowledge that the National Insurance Scheme is government-controlled. It cannot be outside of their knowledge that by law, the Minister of Finance appoints every one of the Scheme’s eight non-executive directors as well as its sole ex-officio director. And again by law, that the Scheme is under-written by the Consolidated Fund.

Dishonestly, the PSC claims that I “pointed” to government’s ownership of a Special Share as “evidence of ownership.” Coming from the PSC, such distortions are unsurprising but no less dishonourable. This is what I wrote, and unlike the PSC, stand by: “Apparently, the PSC’s awareness, or lack thereof, also does not extend to knowing that NICIL, a government agency, owns what is called a Special Share in the company. The Articles of Amendment of the company expressly provide that in respect of specified matters, “no action can be taken by the [Bridge] Company, without the affirmative vote of the holder of the Special Share.” I find it hard to tell whether the bigger problem for the PSC is being honest or being accurate.

In responding to the PSC’s call to him to extricate them from the embarrassing situation in which they found themselves, Mr Winston Brassington, NICIL’s CEO, could not avoid revealing that NICIL’s coffers are now swollen by the proceeds of the sale of the preference shares with an original book value of $950 million. I believe that this is the first public intimation of that sale.

It appears to have been relatively easy for the PSC to have Mr Brassington divulge to them information to shape their response to me, including the small matter of a billion dollar transaction. Now, NICIL and the NIS must provide the public with full particulars of the preference shares sale transaction, including the persons engaged in the negotiations; the date the transaction took place; the price at which the shares changed hands; the basis of the valuation; and whether the shares were sold ex-div or cum-div, that is, with or without the dividends payable at the date of the transaction.

I will close by asking the PSC to respond to three simple questions:

1. Does the PSC support the right of the small private sector and the public to have the option of speedboat crossing across the Berbice River?

2. Does the PSC support “governmental interference… in the pricing for products and services” (to use the PSC’s own words) offered by mini-bus and hire cars operators?

3. Does the PSC support the huge gap between the tolls paid to cross the Berbice Bridge and those to cross the Demerara Harbour Bridge?

These questions are relevant to the fairness of the country’s economic system and whether the PSC speaks only for a certain class of Guyanese and ignores the rest.

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