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By Shurwayne Holder, MP
Let me the opportunity to expose Firstly, let me remind the general public that the APNU+AFC had a superior formula with regards to the transparency and accountability aspects of the Natural Resource Fund. The previous government established a Public Accountability and Oversight Committee that comprised a wide array of professionals; many of them from credible organisations that are known advocates of transparency and accountability.
The APNU+AFC formula brought together a twenty-two member committee including representatives from the Guyana Press Association, Civil Society, Transparency International, Institute of Chartered Accountants, Reps from each of the ten RDCs among many others. This arrangement ensured that Civil Society played a pivotal role and that there was proper oversight of the Natural Resource Fund.
Further, specific functions and authority of the Oversight Committee were well laid out in the NRF Act passed by Parliament in 2019. Those included monitoring and evaluating the compliance of Government with the provisions in the Act, monitoring and evaluating whether the funds have been managed in accordance with the principle of transparency, good governance and international best practices. Importantly, the Oversight Committee had the mandate to provide independent assessments of the fund, withdrawals from it and to facilitate public consultations in the management and utilisation of the fund. And so while the PPP government makes the feeble argument that NRF act passed in 2019 did not create an NRF board and that the fund was wholly managed by the Minister; they fail to acknowledge that the Act created a proper Public Accountability and Oversight Committee with a clear mandate to scrutinise the spending of our oil money and to make public any act committed by the government that in contravention of the law or outside of good governance practices.
That act was repealed by the PPP in December 2021 which created the ruckus in Parliament and saw a new regime which allowed for the creation of the NRF board along with new rules for the composition of the Public Accountability and Oversight Committee. The new NRF Act stipulates that the NRF board is made up of three to five persons appointed by the president. It further stipulates that those persons have experience and ability in legal, financial, business OR administrative matters. It dictates that one nominee comes from the Parliament.
I sat on the Parliamentary Committee of Appointments during the selection of the Parliamentary nominee. Minister Gail Teixeira who chaired the committee set the tone from the outset that the nominee must be someone with financial experience knowing full well that the act did not dictate this but rather allowed the committee to choose a nominee with either legal, financial, business or administrative experience. The PPP knew that APNUAFC initially nominated Dr. Vincent Adams who had over thirty years of experience in the oil and gas sector at the international level along with Economist Elson Low who was an experienced economist who also worked with reputable international companies. So the actions of Gail Teixeira were clearly in our opinion to disqualify the APNUAFC nominees who were more suitable to all other nominees in terms of knowledge and experience in the oil and gas sector and specifically with respect to transparency and accountability matters in that field.
The opposition then nominated Chartered Accountant Christopher Ram who also has over thirty years experience in the financial sector, is an attorney at law and a staunch activist for transparency and accountability regardless of which Political Party is in power. He was promptly rejected by the PPP as Minister Kwame McCoy moved a motion for it to be put to a vote knowing fully that they had a majority. The PPP moved to confirm both of their own nominee for the NRF and Oversight Committee and the rest is now history.
Now I come to the details of the Public Accountability and Oversight Committee according to the new NRF Act passed by the PPP. The new Act does not spell out specific functions and authority of the Public Accountability and Oversight Committee except to say in General Terms that the committee shall provide non- government oversight of the fund. What does that really mean?
The second issue that I have is with the new composition of its members. The Oversight Committee is now made up of one nominee from Parliament, three from the religious community, two from the Private Sector, two from “organised labour” and one from the “professions”. Those representatives have since been appointed. I have no issue with any of them personally; neither do I question their competence within their various fields of work. What I do question is their obvious connection with the PPP and hence their ability to effectively scrutinise the PPP’s handling of the oil fund.
Seven of the nine persons apppointed are known publicly to have deep affiliation with the PPP. The two reps from the Private Sector are a sitting Vice President and a former Vice President of the Private Sector Commission. We all know where the Private Sector Commission leans.
Of the three representatives from the religious community; one is from the Dharmic Sabha with close ties to a Minister of Government. That Minister leads the Dharmic Sabha. The second representative I assume comes from a Muslim Organisation but happens to be the Chief Commercial Officer of a major Internet Service Provider. The CEO of that company happens to be the son of a former PPP Minister and brother of a sitting minister.
The third representative from the religious community has known links to GINA and the Ministry of Health. If fact he was a known critic of former Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo and wrote articles to that effect. The PPP coined the NRF bill without specificity to allow them to largely determine the nominees from the Labour Unions. Instead of allowing the two major unions – GTUC and FITUG to provide nominees, one rep came from GPSU (a breakaway faction of GTUC) and the other being the General Secretary of GAWU. A point to note is that GAWU’s President is a PPP Member of Parliament.
Finally, there is the Parliamentary Nominee who was virtually selected by the PPP through their one seat majority. That PPP nominee has been appointed by the President to chair this crucial Public Accountability and Oversight Committee. So it is quite clear that the PPP government has no genuine interest in transparency and accountability with respect to the spending of oil money. What it is interested in and has since accomplished is the appointment of its friends and cronies to allow for total domination and control of the NRF board and more importantly the Public Accountability and Oversight Committee. In this regard, I applaud UK Parliamentarian David Lammy for his refusal to sit as a puppet on the NRF board and to be a part of a system that is aimed at aiding a corrupt government.