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…PNCR, AFC mount calls for full probe into corruption allegations against Jagdeo
Contending that there was more to the ” mortar than the pestle,” the Alliance For Change (AFC) said the decision of the People’s Progressive Party’s (PPP) Government to overturn its decision to award China State Construction Engineering Corporation (CSCECL) the contract for the construction of the new bridge across the Demerara River at a time when the Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo is accused of taking bribes from Chinese investors to land large scale contracts, leaves more questions than answers. For the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), the allegations against the country’s Vice President warrant an investigation.
In a wide ranging interview with US-based Vice News, Jagdeo admitted to being a close associate to a Chinese lobbyist identified as Su Zhi Rong – a man who allegedly fingered him in a corruption ring that involves the receipt of money, in other words, bribe, in return for preferential treatment and the security of contracts for Chinese investors.
But the Vice President, during a press conference on Tuesday (February 8), denied the allegations.
Contending that the journalist had an anti-Chinese agenda, the Vice President said that he will not be caught up in a “cold war politics.”
“We believe in having friends everywhere; that’s why we are going to assess relationships on the basis of what is good for our people. What’s good for people, that’s what we are going to be pursuing, we don’t want to be caught up in that. We have close relationship with the United States of America and the US is a big source of investment now in Guyana but we are not going to be caught up in anti-Chinese hysteria,” he said.
Days later, President Irfaan Ali, in defending the Vice President, said his “Government is above board” as he questioned the credibility of the Vice News journalist.
In a statement, Chinese Businessman Su Zhi Rong said he never solicited any bribe or inducement from any company or individual for either himself or any government official including the Vice President.
“I have read the insinuations by the VICE News network and others and wish to deny any wrong-doing including influence-peddling. I have been a businessman in Guyana for many years and I have always conducted myself in accordance with local and international laws and standards,” he said. Su Zhi Rong has since engaged his legal representatives on the matter.
The Chinese Embassy, in rejecting the allegations, said that the journalist had a predetermined agenda and attempted to smear and attack China-Guyana cooperation, as well as Chinese companies.
“The Chinese side highly appreciates that the Government of Guyana upholds the one-China principle and keeps developing cordial relations with China. China-Guyana friendly cooperation, featuring equality, mutual benefit, innovation, openness, and benefits for the people, is in accordance with the interests of the two countries and two peoples, not against any third party, nor should it be influenced by a third party,” it said.
The Embassy submitted that Chinese companies operating in Guyana are following the local laws, international practices, and market rules, even as they vie for big projects through open and fair competitions.
But Leader of the PNCR, Aubrey Norton has challenged the Vice President to make public his earnings and assets to invalidate allegations of corruption leveled against him – allegations that Norton also believes should be thoroughly investigated by the Guyana Police Force.
“The People’s Progressive Party has had a history of extreme corruption, even while Vice President Jagdeo was the elected Head of the Government. Now that he is the de facto head, one can understand the continuation. Now it is expected that he will say no to these allegations,” Norton told reporters.
He said to disprove the allegations of bribery and corruption leveled against him, Jagdeo must weigh his earnings against his assets for all to see.
“He can take his assets put it against his earnings,” the PNCR Leader urged while noting that only then the Vice President can establish that his wealth is above board.
In response, the Vice President made it known that he has continuously declared his earnings and assets to the Integrity Commission.
CHINA STATE CONSTRUCTION
But just as the allegations of corruption surfaced, Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill told the Committee of Supply of the Parliament of Guyana that Government is now engaging a new bidder for the construction of the bridge across the Demerara River after negotiations with China State Construction Engineering Corporation Ltd bore little fruit.
But the explanation proffered by the Public Works Minister contrast starkly with a statement issued by the Ministry of Finance on November 1, 2021, in which it was said that the China State Construction proposed to build the bridge at a cost of US$256.6M based on a Design-Build-Finance Model – the lowest among all bidders.
During the interview, the journalist said China State Construction was among Chinese companies, which would have allegedly paid lump sums of cash to the Vice President through ‘Su’ for the facilitation of contracts in the construction and logging industries.
Weighing in on the matter, the AFC said termination of discussions with China State Construction raises serious issues of due process, contract evaluation and probity by the Administration.
AFC General Secretary and former Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson said the decision to move to the next bidder is suspicious and requires a proper, detailed and coherent explanation.
He contended that the initial reason given by Vice President that the financing costs were too high cannot suffice since it was the Cabinet that had granted its “no-objection” approval to the Ministry of Public Works to engage CSCECL from November 2021 based on a Design-Build-Finance (DBF) model.
“For the country to believe the Vice President now raises questions as to why in November he clearly stated that the financial terms and conditions would be no less favourable than those submitted in the preferred bidder’s price proposal and that the construction cost of US$256.6 million was the lowest among all bidders,” Mr. Patterson said.
Insisting that something is amiss, he called on the engineering and financial advisers to speak up on the “questionable” decision.
Patterson posited too that the announcement’s proximity to corruption revelations is also of great concern.
“It is also no secret there is great suspicion that one of the contracts referenced by the interviewer is the proposed contract with CSCECL, and there is now a strong belief that the two events signal that there was more to the ‘mortar than the pestle,’” Patterson posited.
Patterson submitted that openness and transparency are the only solutions to this conundrum facing the Guyanese.