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…Edghill says Patterson, Ferguson lack “moral compass” in accepting high-priced gifts from various agencies
Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill has called on former Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson to resign from the post as Public Accounts Committee (PAC) chair after records revealed that $2.6M was spent on gifts from various agencies to him in just one year.
The Minister also provided the media with documents on Wednesday showing that some $1.4M was spent in gifts/donations to former Junior Minister of Public Infrastructure, Annette Ferguson. However, Edghill has placed his primary focus on Patterson who, on Wednesday, stated that all gifts he accepted as Minister were not solicited by him and, on all occasions, he assumed that the gifts were in keeping with procurement guidelines.
However, Edghill calls it a misuse of public funds. While Patterson said that the reports regarding gifts presented to him as Minister are designed to seek political advantage by embarrassment or distraction, Minister Edghill maintains that the team investigating the Demerara Harbour Bridge (DHB) and Asphalt Plant merely “stumbled” upon the information.
“Mr. Patterson must do the decent thing and I’m calling on him to do the decent thing. Resign as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee. Remove yourself from being Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee,” Edghill demanded at a meeting with the press on Wednesday.
The Public Works Minister pointed out that the Integrity Commission Act declares that officials must declare any gift of US$50 annual declarations and, if not, a false declaration has been made which amounts to a criminal act.
Edghill said that Patterson’s most recent statement is “barefaced” even as he presented the figure of $2.646M that Patterson reportedly received in gifts and personal items from agencies under his control.
Between June 2015 and July 2016, $6,757,015 was spent on purchases for gift items for those in high authority. According to what Edghill readout, the purchases included: two Dell laptops for Patterson and Ferguson worth $382, 822 each; two Apple iPad Air worth $213,000 each; two laptop computers worth $164,600 each; television; cocktail table; hallway table; printers; dresser; rug; safety boots; bookshelf; king bed set; king mattress; queen bed set; chest of drawers; and a vacuum cleaner.
“Even if you want to say that you had to get beds and chairs and tables for accommodation, that don’t come from the Demerara Harbour Bridge,” Edghill said, adding:
“It is clear that not only Minister Patterson benefitted from such largess of these agencies but Minister Ferguson who was the Junior Minister and while he got over $2.6M in items that went to him directly, she got about $1.4M from the various agencies.”
Speaking to the purchases for Patterson, Edghill said that these were made in May of various years, the month of Patterson’s birthday.
On May 4, 2020, after the March 2, 2020 elections, documents show that $704,292 worth of gifts were purchased for Patterson from the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD). On the same date, $387,486 was spent on other gifts. $54,720 were additionally spent on May 6, 2020.
On May 3 and 4 2018, MARAD purchased $300,000 and $76,818 of worth gift items for Patterson. On May 4, 2017, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) spent $117,200 on a 14k initial engraved gold jewellery for Patterson from King’s Jewellery World.
The Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA), on May 7, 2019, purchased a $25,000 worth cross pen which Edghill deemed to be within acceptable moderation.
He concluded that though Patterson would have sent out a statement claiming that he assumed the gifts were in keeping with procurement guidelines, the high spending on him questions whether he has a “moral compass”. He said the question also must be asked of what motivated Heads of Agencies to spend the large sum of money on Ministers
At the press meeting, Edghill also confirmed that Rawlston Adams has been removed as General Manager of the DHB and Troy Halley, previously responsible for the management of the Asphalt Plant has been removed and has been resent to the DHB. An interim arrangement on how the DHB and Asphalt Plant will be managed until the Board can interview, shortlist and appoint a new General Manager.
“These actions are necessary actions to ensure public confidence in a public corporation as it relates to public monies,” Edghill said.
“The investigative report on the Asphalt Plant has been quite revealing and damning…the remaining Managers and senior people have all been spoken to by me and the Board and more changes are to come. The intent, at the end of this, is that we must ensure we have an efficient, well-managed and accountable corporation.”
In all other regards, Edghill said that his Ministry is proud to have established several advisory boards since his Administration took office. These are now present at the Transport and Harbours Department, Maritime Administration Department, the Canawaima Ferry, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, the Guyana National Shipping Corporation, the Cheddi Jagan International Airport and the DHB.
He said: “We expect that with the start of the changes we will see greater compliance with norms; we will see higher standards and we will see greater levels of accountability.”