It all started when an audit team discovered that the manager of the Demerara Harbour Bridge (DHB), which operates the Asphalt Plant at Garden of Eden, purchased for himself, on the occasion of International Men’s Day, a gold bracelet costing $900,000. The team pointed out that, in 2016, the Board had explicitly mandated that gifts and “incentives” etc. had to be approved by them. Great outrage and indignation were expressed by our beleaguered populace, and the manager later returned the bracelet and resigned.
Therefore, a newspaper report last week, which showed a “Requisition to Purchase” a gold wrist band for $424,000 and a tie pin for $76,000 on behalf of Minister of Public Infrastructure (MoPI) David Patterson, was received with extreme bemusement. Patterson vehemently denied receiving the jewellery, and claimed that he does not even wear such accoutrements. However, a gallery of pictures of him sporting a gold band, and, more pertinently, a slew of receipts, provided incontrovertible evidence that several agencies falling under the MoPI – Maritime Administration, Transport and Harbours Department, Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, and the Cheddi Jagan International Airport – had authorised millions of dollars of expensive gifts for him and his Junior Minister, Annette Ferguson.
In one instance, there is a letter from Ferguson’s Personal Assistant to the Director of Civil Aviation, in August 2016, to “facilitate the payment of $176,000” to purchase jewellery for Ferguson, which would be presented to her by Patterson for her birthday. Present MoPI, Juan Edghill, produced another list of items paid for by the DHB to the tune of $6.4 million, including beds and other bedroom furniture, plus a Dell Latitude E7450 Laptop for $382,822 and one Apple iPad at $233,750 for Patterson, and a Samsung Edge 7 phone costing $203,000 for Ferguson.
In addition, MARAD made two payments to Steve’s Jewellery for “gift items” on May 2, 2020, one for $387,486 and another for $704,000. What was particularly egregious about these purchases, as expressed by Min Edghill, was that, “…May 2020 was after the no-confidence motion, it was after the March 2nd, 2020 elections. In the middle of a heightened period of court cases and determination of what was taking place, heading for a recount, the then Minister, who was squatting in office, (allegedly) received gifts from the Maritime Department.”
Faced with these revelations, Patterson changed tact and reversed his denials on the jewellery, but insisted he hadn’t received any bedroom furniture or electronic items. He also said he thought the procurement was legit, and that the practice was acceptable. But there is the matter of the law of the land, as pointed out by Min Edghill: “The Integrity Commission Act is clear that you must declare any gift of US$50 or more in your annual declaration for the year that you received it; and if you don’t, you have made a false declaration, which is a criminal act, and you can be prosecuted in the Court. As a citizen, I am calling on the members of the Integrity Commission to investigate if these gifts that were given by agencies in the Ministry of Public Infrastructure to David Patterson and Annette Ferguson were declared. If they weren’t declared, let the law be followed. I expect to see charges and prosecution.”
But David Patterson is not just an ex-Minister who played fast and loose with the law while he was in office. He is presently the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, which is the hallowed parliamentary institution that the Opposition party controls to scrutinise the spending of the incumbent Government. In this role, the Opposition APNU/AFC should surely concede that, after Patterson’s concession that he had lied about receiving jewellery, his credibility has been fatally damaged. We echo the call of Minister Edghill: “Do the decent thing and resign as Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.”
In 1974, US President Richard Nixon resigned from his office, not because he participated in the coverup of the Watergate break-in, but because he lied to the American people about it.
Can Patterson do any less?