Clear policy needed on conflict of interest – TIGI

…as more contracts given to minister’s company

Local transparency watchdog, Transparency International Guyana Inc (TIGI) has underscored the need for clear policy to avoid conflict of interests in light of fresh revelations that the multi-media company owned by, Public Telecommunications Minster Cathy Hughes, has in fact received multiple contracts from the government.

Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) on Thursday disclosed that Videomega Productions, the company owned by Minister Hughes has benefited from several lucrative contracts from the Ministry of Public Telecommunications, which she heads.
According to the PPP, within the space of months the minister’s company cashed in on over $10.3 million in government contracts including ones from her ministry.
The party revealed that the company received a contracts value in excess of $900,000 and $100,000 for advertisement of vacancies and Facebook page respectively in June 2018 and then another in September to the tune of $2.2 million for CTU/ITC Roadshow – all from the Telecommunications Ministry which Hughes heads.
In addition, PPP said Videomega Productions also benefited from another five contracts awarded by other ministries. These include the Public Infrastructure Ministry in September 2018 for television advertisement at more than $250,000; Business Ministry in September 2018 for Caribbean Tourism Diaspora Forum at over $190,000; Education Ministry in July 2018 for video production at $1.4 million; Natural Resources Ministry in May 2018 for artwork at $1.4 million, and the Public Health Ministry in July 2018 for advertisement value $3.5 million.
No denial
However, in a response to the PPP, the company sent out a statement after midnight on Thursday in which it did not deny receiving the contracts mentioned by the Opposition but instead, refuted the value of the contracts as stated by the PPP.
“The payments received by Videomega are paid over directly to the media houses (where the ads were placed) and therefore, it is disingenuous for the PPP to say that $10.3 million is revenue earned by Videomega Productions when they know that the payment goes directly to the media houses. The company will provide the invoices issued for the sums referred to in the PPP statement as soon as it retrieves it from its auditors,” the company assured.
It went onto reiterate in the missive that Minister Hughes “does not participate in the running of the company.”
Despite this, however, TIGI in a statement on Friday explained that while there may not be any direct actions that constitute a ‘conflict of interest’, whenever a minister or public official owns or have private interests in a company then there is the possibility of favoritism being be shown to that company due to the known association with the government.
TIGI pointed out that an examination of the procurement procedures would provide important insights on the potential for such an occurrence. As such, the transparency watchdog noted that in order for Guyana to make progress with regards to “transparency and corruption perception” then it is important to address issue that arise decisively and in ways that close opportunities for recurrence.
“Establishing a clear policy on specific actions that should be taken by minsters and other public officials who have firms that compete for local business especially with the government would enhance our attempts to address conflict of interest in government. We should also recognize that the code of conduct for public officers is weak. It fails to articulate any specific penalties for breaches and it should be strengthened,” TIGI contended in a statement on Friday.
According to the local transparency body, conflict of interest is a huge problem in Guyana and this recent cases within the Coalition Government highlights the need now more than ever for this matter to be properly dealt with especially as the country is on the cusp of becoming on oil producing nation.
“This conflict of interest situation provides Guyanese with an opportunity for reflection on the companies that will be generated in the petroleum economy and on whether our elected leaders will have the consciousness of history to take steps to safeguard the interest of the (the country and its people),” the transparency watchdog stated.