As Mega-projects unravel, Guyana Dollar “junkified”

Luncheon and his ploys
Before turning to this week’s piece I will respond to a statement attributed to Dr. Roger Luncheon who at his press conference last week named Messrs. Ronald Ali, Anand Goolsarran and me in a “ploy orchestrated against Mrs. Singh [wife of Dr. Ashni Singh, the Finance Minister] of the Audit Office of Guyana.” The moniker “politician” can hardly exempt or justify careless and untruthful speech particularly when making serious allegations about others.

Dr. Luncheon should be aware that a formal complaint was lodged with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Guyana (ICAG) by Robert McRae CPA, a partner of Ram & McRae, alleging a “conflict of interest between the Ministry of Finance and the Office of the Auditor General involving members Dr. Ashni Singh and Gitanjali Singh.” That complaint, lodged since July 9, 2012, had to name the two persons since investigations are held into conduct of members of the Institute, not offices. Mr. McRae lodged on the same date not one but two complaints with the ICAG, only one in which Mrs. Singh is named along with Dr. Singh.

With regard to Mr. Ali, I am not aware of any statement being made by him at any time on the matter. If any criticism can be directed at Mr. Ali, it is that the ICAG of which he is the President, has been unforgivably slow in pronouncing in a matter of national and professional importance falling within its functions. The ICAG has a duty not only to the public but also to the Singhs to rule on the complaints since it is totally unfair to its two highly ranked members to have professional complaints hanging over their heads.

As for prejudice to the investigation, it can hardly have escaped Dr. Luncheon that he and other members of the Cabinet are interfering with the investigations and in the process compromising the Audit Office. He must realise that Cabinet is not a disinterested party and for it to attempt to pronounce on a matter involving one of its own members is committing several improper acts – undue influence on the ICAG and on the Audit Office, as well as conflict of interest. Maybe this is Luncheon’s ploy to win further loyalty from an Auditor General who owes his appointment more to the political machinations in the PAC than to any professional qualification or competence.

My advice to Dr. Luncheon is that rather than speak on a matter on which he is so poorly informed, he should devote his attention to fixing the billion dollar mess in which the NIS has found itself during his 21-year tenure as Chairman.

We may not have noticed it but a quiet revolution has been taking place in Guyana: a revolution that places wealth accumulation as the national ethos. This revolution is not being led by a right-wing party like the TUF but by some leading members of the PPP/C whose founder was a committed Socialist and champion of the small farmer, the worker and the artisan. So ingrained is the new philosophy that a former President could refer disparagingly to a bicycle shop operator and the Minister of Agriculture could carelessly describe the country’s farmers, telling them they have to leave their subsistence mindset and aim to become wealthy.

Even if the Minister did not intend to write-off the thousands of farmers his choice of words reflected a paradigm that was a world different from that of Cheddi Jagan. That shift becomes apparent from a review of the manifestos of the PPP/C with each succeeding one reflecting reduced emphasis for farming and agriculture and an ascendant concept of megaprojects. Farming is not only about mindset but also about landholdings, access to capital, a national policy on imports and markets for their products. If farmers cannot sell five bags of Bora how will they sell ten, or fifteen or twenty?

The rationale for the shift in national policy – for which we should read party policy – has never been too clear. Maybe it is a local version of the Reagan-Thatcher philosophy, or the economic counterpart to top-down politics. Or the strange logic that if the government cannot manage or supervise smaller projects it is because it is really cut-out to deal only with mega-projects. But the architects of these grand projects must know that the scale of the failure becomes correspondingly greater as the size of the project increases. Of course, if the scale of the project is in any way related to the culture of corruption, then some kind of logic begins to emerge.
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