Brassington, Ramotar confirm US$5M still owed by Chinese company

Sale of GTT shares

“As at Dec 31, 2015 no monies were paid” – Auditor Goolsarran

Immediate past president of Guyana Donald Ramotar, under whose tenure the government disposed of its 20 per cent shares in the Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GTT) by sale to a Chinese company, has come out swinging at the 10-month-old A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) government after the administration said on Wednesday the Datang Telecom Technology and Industry Group, which bought the shares, has already repaid the outstanding US$5 million; however, there seems to be no record of the payment.

Former Executive Director of NICIL Winston Brassington
Former Executive Director of NICIL Winston Brassington
Minister of State Joseph Harmon
Minister of State Joseph Harmon

In 2012, Datang purchased government’s shares at the cost of US$30 million from the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) and based on the agreement with the then People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration, the company paid off US$25 million and had two years to make the outstanding payment. The PPP/C had long maintained that the outstanding monies were not paid and after assuming office last year the APNU/AFC regime undertook to recoup the monies; hence Minister of State Joseph Harmon’s recent trip to China.
But, a post-Cabinet briefing on Wednesday revealed that based on documentation in the government’s possession, the moneys were paid long before the May 11, 2015 General and Regional Elections.
“What I can say is that Mr Harmon has been able to retrieve some documents which tell a different story. That story being, of course, that the five million was paid so we are trying to track down to whom, how, where and when,” Trotman revealed to reporters.
While the Government spokesperson did not provide many details in relation to the information found on the payment by the Chinese company, he did hint it was made under the previous Administration when he said “that was before May 16, 2015”.
However, Ramotar in a statement on Thursday rejected the government’s claim and said the claim by government that the money was received is a lie. “I challenge the government to present the “documents” it has received (under suspicious and questionable circumstances) so that the veracity of the evidence can be tested and authenticated,” Ramotar dared.
It was under Ramotar’s presidency the government sold its shares in GTT and according to the former President, the transaction was public, including NICIL’s efforts to pursue legal recourse in the UK to collect the outstanding balance.
The PPP/C administration never had any reason to doubt the word of NICIL’s competent technical staff when they said the amounts were outstanding and every effort was being made to pursue, Ramotar added.
“Any claim that amounts were paid, would not be hard to prove,” Ramotar stated, adding that NICIL was the sole entity authorised to receive the payments.
“One would assume that had NICIL received this money then there would be a receipt or some form of banking documentation to show its payments. Any claim that some other entity or person received this money would also be easy to prove or disprove,” he reasoned.

The Former President believes that the APNU/AFC administration’s insinuation that the money was paid to someone else or some other entity other than NICIL prior to the May 2015 elections is a distraction from “the real issues”, adding that the cantankerous claims of massive corruption under the PPP/C administration have yet to be proven.
Ramotar said this latest claim is a political ploy to appeal to people’s emotions as the nation demands explanations on who really paid for Harmon’s trip to China, the naming of the ‘honorific’ advisors and party contributors, and demands for decisive actions against the spiralling crime rate.

Brassington’s take
Meanwhile, former Executive Director of NICIL Winston Brassington in an invited comment told Guyana Times he was unaware the outstanding monies were paid to NICIL up until December 31, 2015.
“If it was paid, then the seller can easily produce evidence showing this.  Payments of this nature are transferred via the banking system (wire transfer) from one bank to another and easy to check and validate. Given that the first payment was wired directly to NICIL’s US dollar bank account in Guyana, I would expect the remaining US$5M to have followed the same course,” Brassington said.
He clarified that after the payment of the initial US$25 million by Datang, there has been no amendments to the sale contract up to the time of him being a part of NICIL.
“Any amendment is required to be executed in writing by both parties. As such nonpayment would be deemed a breach of contract. The Chinese buyer should bear the responsibility to prove evidence of payment per the contract terms,” he stated, adding that his comment was simply to avoid speculation on NICIL’s actions while he was at the helm.

Auditor’s take
Meanwhile, speaking with this publication on Thursday, Anand Goolsarran who conducted an audit into the operations of NICIL said based on his examination of the books of the holding company, as at December 31, 2015, the monies were not paid to NICIL.
He noted that Brassington did indicate in the management response to the Audit that the monies were still outstanding and that legal proceedings were being initiated to recoup that money.

He made it clear that he was not confirming or denying the monies were paid, however, he would like to see the documents which Minister Harmon claimed he has in his possession. When the US$25 million was paid initially, it was made by international wire instructions, from one bank to another, thus making the payment easily traceable.
As such, the question is now being asked, if the outstanding US$5 million was indeed paid, then why the government has not yet explored that option (to trace the payment) rather than to “throw it out in public” without a proper or concrete position.
Questions are also being asked that if indeed Minister Harmon received “documents” to show that the monies were paid, those very documents must say who or which entity received the payments.
At a press conference late last year former Head of NICIL Winston Brassington had stated that efforts were afoot to recoup the monies.
Brassington had even defended selling the shares to the Chinese company, explaining that the share-offer was advertised more than 40 times locally and close to 30 times overseas. He added that government had even written all the embassies and consulates and in the end, the highest offer received was US$7 million.
Meanwhile, Attorney at law and PPP Member of Parliament Anil Nandlall in commenting on the issue of the sale said that the Coalition Government is attempting to manufacture a controversy over the sale of the shares at GT&T. He said that this attempt is “obviously to distract attention” from the perpetual scandals that they have been recently generating.
He pointed out that the “concocted controversy” seems to be whether or not the balance of US$5M was paid. “If the purchaser is asserting that this money was paid, then all they have to do is to produce the evidence of this payment. They must have some credible evidence that they made this payment and they must know to whom or to which company this payment was made,” he said.
According to Nandlall, unless someone in the Coalition Government received the money and is refusing to acknowledge receipt or did a write-off then proof of payment should be produced.
“The next step for the Government is litigation to recover the debt. There are several lawyers in the Cabinet and it remains a mystery how they cannot advise on such a simple matter. Unless, of course, as I indicated, someone is not making full and frank disclosures on this matter.”