Prior to the change in administration in 2015, the then parliamentary Opposition parties, APNU and AFC, had been heavily critical of the powers wielded by the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL). There had specifically been much criticism of NICIL retaining dividends from several state-owned entities.
However, now that the coalesced APNU+AFC are in Government, nothing about the operation of NICIL has changed, in spite of a forensic audit having been conducted by former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran,
According to a closely placed source, the APNU+AFC Coalition Government continues to run NICIL the very same way it used to be run when they were heavily critical of its operation.
“APNU+AFC continues to use NICIL in the same way. In fact, they’ve taken all of GuySuCo’s (Guyana Sugar Corporation’s) shares and transferred (them) to NICIL,” the source said. “And they’ve taken all of the assets of GuySuCo and invested (them) in NICIL. They continue to run NICIL along the same lines (they previously criticised).”
According to the source, the Government has taken one of Guyana’s largest entities and placed it under the control of NICIL.
“They took the biggest entity in the country and they transferred it to NICIL…the shares and all of the assets. They created the Special Purpose Unit. They bought the shares in the Berbice Bridge,” the source said, adding that a change was expected when the new Government took over, but nothing has changed.
Following Government’s decision to close the Enmore and Rose Hall Sugar Estates, and sell the Skeldon Sugar Factory, a Special Purpose Unit (SPU) operating out of NICIL has been leading the divestment process. Run by Colvin Heath-London, the SPU has contracted an overseas firm to do the valuation of assets, while advertising for various bidders who would tender for parts of the estate — from land to scrap metal.
On the other hand, Government, in 2016, purchased the 40 million shares Demerara Distillers Limited (DDL) had in the Berbice Bridge. NICIL had previously held shares in the Berbice Bridge Company Incorporated, but these were sold to the National Insurance Scheme.
The 2015 forensic audit of NICIL was one of 50 such audits the Government had launched after it entered office. Goolsarran, who handled that audit, had noted that from 2002 to 2014, NICIL retained $26.8 billion in dividends and divestment proceeds.
Back then, Goolsarran had called this a breach of Article 216 of the Constitution. However, the then NICIL Executive Director, Winston Brassington, had sought and received legal advice from London House Chambers, an international law firm that directly contested Goolsarran’s finding.
According to advice from London House Chambers attorney Devindra Kissoon, “Section 216 applies specifically to revenues raised by the State. NICIL is not the State, but rather has a separate legal personality. The fact that the State is the sole shareholder of NICIL does not render its corporate form defunct; and accordingly, the automatic transfer provision contained in 216 does not apply.”
“These forensic audits have become tools for witch-hunting. And some of the other auditors have come to the table with their hands not clean. They’ve come with prejudices and biases,” the source noted, in commenting on the audits.