Home Top Stories TIGI urges probe into SPU sale of 2 towers to Bobby Vieira
– says SARA should be involved if GuySuCo assets were undervalued in sale
In light of reports that the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) sold and may have undervalued two transmission towers belonging to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), Transparency International Guyana Incorporated (TIGI) is calling for answers.
During an interview with Guyana Times on Sunday, TIGI President, Dr Troy Thomas noted that NICIL’s Special Purpose Unit (SPU) – which was created to oversee the divestment of GuySuCo’s assets after the industry was downsized to only three estates – must provide answers on the sale, which sources at GuySuCo allege netted a sub-par price of just $2.1 million.
“They must answer questions about how that (transaction) was done and whether the laws were followed. And if the laws were not followed, then that would come under SARA (State Assets Recovery Agency) at this point, although there can be other agencies. But we definitely need to make sure that things were done properly and if they were not done properly, then those responsible must be held accountable,” he posited.
Persons have opined that the towers should have fetched no less than $10 million. In fact, Dr Thomas reminded that when Government assets are being disposed of, there should be open tendering to ensure the State receives the best price for its property. He noted that assets could easily be undervalued and the State would lose money when procurement laws were not followed.
“There should be an official evaluation of it, because I think that $10 million is somewhat anecdotal in the sense that people say I know it should be this. But we need a proper evaluation. And I would say if it was sold below the market value, then it’s a matter for SARA to look into, being the State Assets Recovery Agency,” the Head of the local transparency watchdog stressed.
Dr Thomas went on to add, “If State assets (were disposed of) in a manner that does not return the maximum value, then it’s something that SARA should take up and see whether something was done inappropriately and whether there are grounds for applying legal sanctions.”
Officials from GuySuCo were recently quoted in sections of the media questioning the sale by NICIL of two of its transmission towers to Bobby Vieira’s Multicultural Communications Inc for a mere $2.1 million. One of the towers, reports suggest, has since been leased to another company. Another concern was that the assets were not even vested to NICIL.
It is understood that the officials had written a letter about the matter to Agriculture Minister Noel Holder, in which they had noted that “we recently saw a draft Agreement of sale whereby Mr (Colvin) Heath-London, through NICIL is in the process of, or perhaps have sold GuySuCo’s Transmission Tower located at Drill, Mahaicony to a company named Multicultural Communications Inc…. Again, that property was not vested to NICIL and would be another unlawful act by NICIL.”
Repeated attempts by this publication to make contact with SPU Head Heath-London, whose agency has responsibility for divesting GuySuCo of its assets, were futile.
Since the story broke, Vieira, who has had ties to the coalition Government and served as the assistant events coordinator for President David Granger’s inauguration in 2015, has been directing questions to the relevant authorities.
This sale is the latest cause of friction between NICIL and GuySuCo. While NICIL has claimed GuySuCo has not been forthcoming with information for the divestment, the Sugar Corporation has denied this and countered with records of submitted information. In fact, GuySuCo has expressed concerns that NICIL is less than transparent about the process.
The company criticised NICIL for the current arrangement that sees the agency pocketing proceeds from the assets it does divest. GuySuCo claims that it should be the other way around, so that the Corporation could fund its own strategic plan.
“As a matter of fact, in an attempt to extend the life of the SPU, having been created for the specific purposes above and within a particular timeframe; the agency has now assumed the role and operates as a proprietor and landlord. This is totally inconsistent with its intended purposes,” GuySuCo had said in a recent statement.
“Additionally, GuySuCo is still awaiting a full report from NICIL-SPU on all and any transaction(s) which were completed or are in progress in relation to its immoveable and moveable assets, including the scrap metals, machinery, plant and equipment,” the Corporation complained.
This is telling, as in April of this year, reports emerged that scrap metal from GuySuCo worth $3 billion was sold to a mysterious buyer, but the proceeds from the sale were not received by the Corporation.
This is another transaction the Government has been silent on, with former Business Minister Dominic Gaskin distancing his Ministry from the sale when questioned by this publication in April. The Business Ministry has overall responsibility for the scrap metal trade.
Nor is that all. According to GuySuCo, it is yet to be informed by NICIL about the extent of the valuation done by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) into its assets, information others, including Opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo, have repeatedly called for.
In fact, Jagdeo last week called on Government to intervene and sort out the issues between GuySuCo and NICIL’s SPU which have been playing out publicly.
The following day, however, Director General at the Ministry of the Presidency and Government’s spokesperson, Joseph Harmon, told media operatives that while Cabinet has already given some guidance, the matter was still engaging its attention.