Ramjattan insists compromised Patterson remains as PAC Chair
Leader of Alliance For Change and Opposition Member of Parliament, Khemraj Ramjattan has stated that the Government parliamentarians have to get used to former Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson being the Chairman of the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
Patterson has been embroiled in controversy after he admitted to receiving millions of dollars in gifts from agencies and departments under the then Public Infrastructure Ministry, which he headed under the previous A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Administration.
As such, there have been widespread calls for the embattled Opposition MP to step down as Chair of the PAC – the parliamentary body that is responsible for scrutinising Government spending via the audited reports from the Audit Office of Guyana.
However, during AFC’s virtual press conference on Wednesday, former Public Security Minister Ramjattan reminded that it is the parliamentary Opposition that “calls the shots” as it relates to the selection of the PAC Chairman.
“If they want to change that rule that has a standing in the Standing Orders, that will carry it to an extremely far way [and] that will be extraordinarily unacceptable. So, they better start getting used to David Patterson’s chairmanship there… Otherwise, we might very well end up not participating in anything,” the AFC leader asserted.
Earlier this month, Government had tabled a motion of no confidence against Patterson at the PAC meeting, but his Opposition colleagues refused to take up his seat, arguing steadfastly for Patterson to be retained.
The motion was moved by Government Chief Whip and Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Gail Teixeira.
The Standing Orders stipulate that only the Opposition can chair the PAC. However, when Patterson eventually recused himself to allow the motion, none of his Opposition colleagues took up the chair thus leaving the meeting in limbo.
Teixeira had told reporters that if the Opposition continued to refuse the chairmanship, then the matter may very well return to the Parliamentary Committee of Selection.
“If the Opposition continues on their position that none of them will take the chair, then obviously the Committee of Selection will have to go back and raise the issue as to the selection of the Committee and the Speaker will probably have to get involved with having another election of the Committee Chair,” the Chief Whip had said.
Nevertheless, during Wednesday’s press conference, Patterson reminded that he still remained Chairman of the PAC with the support of the APNU/AFC. He added that the matter would be further dealt with at the next PAC meeting, which will not be until after the upcoming budget debates and consideration of estimates.
Last month, Patterson’s successor, Public Works Minister Juan Edghill presented to the media vouchers and receipts from jewellery stores, showing that over $2.6 million worth of gifts and personal items were purchased for Patterson, mostly for his birthday – by various agencies that fall under the Ministry.
For instance, $704,292 worth of gifts were purchased for the then Minister by the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) in May of 2020 – in the middle of the contentious period that followed the March 2 General and Regional Elections. In another case, on May 4, 2020, a further $387,000 was spent.
In May 2018, more than $600,000 was spent by MARAD for gifts for Patterson’s birthday, including $300,000 that was spent on May 3, 2018 and $384,700 that was spent the next day.
At some point in time, it seemed as though the agency had given up on purchasing jewellery gifts for the former Minister and purchased a $516,000 gift certificate from King’s Jewellery World.
On May 4, 2017, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) spent $117, 200 on a gift from King’s Jewellery World for Patterson. The Transport and Harbours Department and Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) were also flagged for buying gifts and memorabilia for the then Minister, although in the airport’s case it was for the purchase of a $25,000 memorabilia which Edghill noted he had no problem with.
Edghill was also in possession of a spreadsheet of items he said were purchased for Patterson and his then junior Public Infrastructure Minister, Annette Ferguson dating back to 2015 which included computers and tablets as well as personal items like mattresses, a double bunk bed, and bed sets.
Only recently, a probe at the Asphalt Plant, which falls under the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC), found that some $424,700 of taxpayers’ money from the Plant’s Fund was spent to purchase a hand band for the former Minister. Additionally, a sum of $76,300 was spent to purchase a tie pin for the former Minister.
Patterson had admitted to accepting some of the gifts, but insisted that the practice was nothing new.
Meanwhile, the former Public Infrastructure Minister is also in hot water over the sole-sourced contract to Dutch company LievenseCSO for the design of the new Demerara River bridge. At present, he is out on $200,000 bail.