September 23, 2017

PPP/C MP critises Govt’s plan to establish Special Purpose Unit

Former Junior Finance Minister, Juan Edghill

Government has come under severe criticism from the Opposition for requesting G$130 million to be used as a subsidy for the establishment of a Special Purpose Unit at the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) — to assist with the divestment of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo).

Former Junior Finance Minister Juan Edghill has opined that the purpose of establishing this unit is to create employment for special people who are already earmarked for these jobs, and it is only a matter of time before the Government names those people who will take up the top positions.

Edghill recalled asking Finance Minister Winston Jordan, on Friday in Parliament, why the extra-budgetary agency NICIL would be allowed to receive funds for such an activity, when in fact the unit is being set up within NICIL. The excuse proffered was that NICIL does not have the finances to create the unit.

Edghill has described the unit as basically a “clearing house” to sell off GuySuCo’s assets. He told Guyana Times International that he doesn’t see the need to have a special services unit, because there is already the Privatization Unit within NICIL, and NICIL is a legally established company.

“But I suspect what would have happened is that they have gone so much after NICIL while in Opposition that they are now ashamed to have NICIL used as the tool for privatization, divestment, and alternative investments as well as private-public partnerships,” he opined.

Setting up a unit within NICIL, which is basically NICIL, Edghill said, doesn’t make any logical sense.

Government has revealed that three top positions would be created within this unit, and an audit firm would be hired. Edghill, however, has pointed out that NICIL already has a chief executive officer and a deputy chief executive officer, whose skills could have been utilised.

“NICIL already has a structure, but if they use NICIL’s structure they can’t employ their top friends and pay them huge amounts of money, because if 60 percent goes towards employment, that’s G$18 million,” he said, adding that each of the three top people would be paid in excess of G$1 million per month.

“(They are) creating these positions to give jobs to their friends; so G$60 million is also earmarked for professional fees, which will be used to pay an international auditing firm. Some 20 vehicles will be purchased for the unit, and G$2 million (will be expended) to fix office space in GuySuCo facility.”

The former minister opined that creating a unit of NICIL to be housed at GuySuCo is another issue that must be explained. “The question was already asked: if GuySuCo does not have the facility to do its own divestment. But this venue for the Special Service Unit is to hide the true intent of what they want to do,” he claimed.

Reference was also made to the controversial Durban Park Project which has cost Government millions of dollars. Edghill reminded that the finance for that project was disbursed from the Public Infrastructure Ministry. He said a comparison could be drawn between the unit at GuySuCo and the new department that is being opened at the Ministry of the Presidency on innovation and education reform.

That unit is expected to have a director who will be paid G$750,000, far more than what is being paid to the Chief Education Officer (CEO) at the Education Ministry. The deputy director, on the other hand, will receive a monthly salary of G$500,000.

Minister Jordan had explained that the purpose of the Special Purpose Unit under the rubric of NICIL will be for the divestment and privatisation of certain parts of GuySuCo.

“This is a Special Purpose Unit designed purely for what I indicated… the focus of this Unit is privatisation and divestment of identified assets, one of which is Skeldon Estate; that is their top priority,” he explained.

The Finance Minister told the House that other identified properties will soon be transferred to the Special Purpose Unit for divestment by that outfit. GuySuCo, he said, would identify the lands or assets to be divested, after which those lands or assets would be transferred to the Special Purpose Unit.

The Finance Minister has insisted that all transactions would be above board, and in fact would be subjected to a public tendering process. The Minister has reminded that Government is unable at this time to speak specifically to the level of revenues to be raised, since the valuations are yet to be completed. He, however, assured that the proceeds emanating from the sale of GuySuCo’s assets would be pumped back into the industry.

According to the Finance Minister, the revenues emanating from the sale of these assets would go to GuySuCo, and would be used to defray its debts, finance the costs associated with divestments, and used to operate the entity.