Home Top Stories Larry London supplied 500,000 birth certificates – former minister admits
“Where are all these birth certificates?” – Teixeira questions
Parliamentary Affairs and Governance Minister Gail Teixeira has dismissed a letter from former Citizenship Minister Winston Felix, who defended the award of a multi-million-dollar contract to businessman Larry London – a close ally of the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government – to print birth certificates.
This issue was brought to light earlier this week by Minister Teixeira during the consideration of estimates for the 2020 budget of the Office of the President, formerly the Ministry of the Presidency, which had oversight of the Department of Citizenship, headed by Felix.
It was subsequently announced that the Auditor General would conduct a special probe into the contract, which was sole-sourced to the Florida, United States-based company Universal Procurement Services Inc.
The company was registered with Florida’s Division of Corporations, and London is listed as one of three directors. However, a perusal of the database shows that the company’s status is in fact inactive.
Nevertheless, in response to these findings, Felix on Thursday defended the sole-sourcing of the contract, explaining that this method of procurement was in existence for over a decade prior to the APNU/AFC Coalition assuming office in 2015.
He went on to say that while the previous printer had the capacity to print the birth certificates, he lacked the capacity to do so with an improved quality of paper and the necessary upgraded security features.
After also unsuccessfully approaching Canadian Bank Note company for the job, Felix, a former Commissioner of Police, said London approached Government with samples of high-quality paper and several security features to protect the document.
However, Minister Teixeira told Guyana Times that Felix deflected from the issues at hand, and sought to focus entirely on the sole-sourcing.
She questioned the rationale behind contracting London, who was not only closely linked to the Coalition, but was also at the time employed as ‘Director of Parks’ within the Department of Environment under the same Ministry of the Presidency that had oversight for the Department of Citizenship.
“So, the issue is not just about single-sourcing the [contract]. Mr. Felix is trying to deflect the issue. It is the fact that here is a person employed by the Government who already has many question marks over his involvement with D’Urban Park, who was hired in the Government within the same Ministry in which Mr Felix was, given the contract [to print birth certificates]” she stated.
London has been the subject of numerous debates, dating as far back as his involvement in the controversial D’Urban Park project. Lambasted on all sides for its lack of transparency and its structural defects, D’Urban Park was built through the coordination of Homestretch Development Incorporated (HDI) – a company co-owned by London.
The former APNU/AFC Government has been unable to account for how the monies were spent, despite the best efforts of the Audit Office of Guyana to reconcile the payments over the past few years.
Legitimacy of operations
To this end, Teixeira questioned the legitimacy of the operations that London was running in order to secure the contract for the printing of the birth certificates. Noting that the address of the business was at London’s residence in Florida, she questioned whether the printing was indeed done overseas, or in Guyana.
As such, the Governance Minister, who only unearthed this issue in Parliament on Monday, further told this newspaper that Government is demanding an audit to ascertain whether all of the birth certificates were delivered as per contract, and how they were distributed.
In his letter on Thursday, Felix had disclosed that between 2016 and 2020, London supplied over 500,000 birth certificates.
However, Teixeira pointed out that, based on the contracts she saw for 2019 and 2020, the birth certificates came in tranches. The first set was to arrive before the controversial House-to-House Registration ended, had it gone on, and the last set in January 2020 – between 250,000 and 300,000 birth certificates.
This, according to the Governance Minister, is suspicious, given the fact that Guyana has a population of just about 800,000 people, and in a matter of one year, some 300,000 birth certificates were brought in.
She further argued that even if persons were to receive two copies each, it is still implausible that some 150,000 Guyanese would have applied for birth certificates.
In fact, she remained adamant that the truncated H2H registration, which ran from July 20 to August 31, 2019, had only captured approximately 16,000 new registrants.
“So where are all these birth certificates?” Teixeira questioned.
It should be noted that some of the ‘new’ registrants recorded in the H2H registration could not be verified during the verification exercise carried out by the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM); and there were also concerns that the 600,000 plus Official List of Electors (OLE) was bloated. In fact, the APNU/AFC Coalition decried that thousands of votes were cast in the names of dead and migrated persons.
Additionally, while in Opposition, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic had raised concerns when Felix took control of the issuance of birth certificate, saying that this was setting the stage for possible rigging of the elections which were upcoming at the time.
Moreover, Teixeira pointed to allegations surfacing in recent days of birth certificates being sold.
“The Citizenship Department took over the birth registration of people in our country and linked it with an internal mechanism with Larry London and others to what is beginning to look like an attempt by persons to distribute a large percentage of the birth certificates for the House-to-House Registration, including persons who may not even be Guyanese. So, there are many questions, and he does not deal with it…
Mr. Felix put out this rather long verbose statement and side-stepped completely the real issues that came out in the Parliament; that is: something was extraordinarily fishy about this arrangement,” she posited.
The Governance Minister opined that this all seems to be part on an apparent inside trading/arrangement.
“The issue of Larry London having this contract is — first off all, assuming you put aside that it was an attempt to create fraud in the elections — this was an insider trading… [Felix] side-stepped completely that this was inside trading – an inside arrangement, and there was no accountability. Were all these birth certificates received? Were all these accounted for? Those are issues that a full-fledged investigation will have to determine,” Minister Teixeira asserted.
Meanwhile, asked about the awarding of the contract to London, Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon, who served as Minister of State at the Ministry of the Presidency at the time, told reporters on Friday that whatever decision was taken by the then Citizenship Minister would have had to be verified by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry – who is the accounting officer.
Nevertheless, he noted that he is awaiting the findings from the special probe that will be conducted by the Auditor General.. (G8)