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Harmon aboard Chinese jet: Possible conflict with draft ministerial code, but Harmon did no wrong

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon (seated left), Chairman of the Guyana Civil Aviation Larry London (standing second from left) and top officials of Baishan Lin in an aircraft in China. Seated (at extreme right) is a Guyana government official.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon (seated left), Chairman of the Guyana Civil Aviation Larry London (standing second from left) and top officials of Baishan Lin in an aircraft in China. Seated (at extreme right) is a Guyana government official.

Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman on Wednesday acknowledged that the provision of an aircraft to Minister of State Joseph Harmon by existing and prospective Chinese investors in Guyana’s forestry sector for domestic travels to their locations in China could conflict with the proposed ministerial code of conduct and was sure it would not happen again.

“It could lead to a conflict but in and of itself it is not a conflict. It could lead to a conflict if the travel was used to influence but we have no evidence to show that it has influenced a decision,” he told a news conference.

Asked whether he would recommend the use of an aircraft in such circumstances, Trotman said he was sure that Harmon and other ministers who looked at not just the photograph but the results “would opt not to avail themselves of the service if it is offered in the future.”

In part, the draft code of conduct states Failure to avoid or declare any conflict of interest may give rise to criticism of favouritism, abuse of authority or even allegations of corruption. In particular, Ministers, Members of Parliament and public office holders involved in the procurement process should declare conflict of interest if they are closely related to, or have, or will likely be perceived to have, beneficial interest in any company or transaction that would result in the award for the supplies of goods and services to the state.

There was major public outcry in many circles about  Harmon being seen aboard a private jet with representatives of Bai  Shan Lin, a forest company in Guyana that has tax-related and other problems with the Guyana government.

Trotman, who was appointed Minister of Governance shortly after the May 11, 2016 general and  regional elections and later shifted to Natural Resources, said  Guyana’s Cabinet accepted the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon’s explanation that given the time available and the distances that he was required to cover that a private jet was the best way to travel.

Trotman later added that  the Minister of State though using the aircraft was the best thing to do at a time when government was being portrayed in certain circles as “anti-Chinese.” “I think we have to be careful that we don’t come over as being anti-Chinese. The government has been beaten over their head repeatedly by Ms Gail Teixeira and others about what we are doing to Chinese so I thought Mr. Harmon believed he was trying to keep an image of good relations so to speak,” he said.

Trotman urged Guyanese to take into consideration the realistic circumstances of transportation being provided by investors to visit sites or attend meetings.

“There are levels of comfort and there are levels of discomfort and I think the picture by itself, off course, is a very uncomfortable one to look at it but I think if you were to look into whether is it common for the use of a private jet,” Trotman said.

The Minister of State has said the Ambassador of China to Guyana, who was in country at that time, made arrangements for him to meet officials of four companies, which had signalled their intention to make significant investments in Guyana.  These Companies were located in Beijing, Shanghai, Hebei and Heilong Jiang Provinces.

“In this regard, because of the significant distances involved and the limited time available on that trip, the Ambassador made arrangements for these companies to provide transportation, both air and land, for me to travel to their respective Head Offices,” he has said. Harmon recalled that on the March 27, 2016, one such arrangement was made for him to visit Long Jiang Forest Industries Group, a Company situated in Heilong Jiang Province.  The Long Jiang Forest Industries Group is a state-owned company that had acquired 55 percent of the shares in Bai Shan Lin and is intended to fully take over the company in 2016.

While acknowledging that the picture of Harmon and others aboard the jet was an “uncomfortable one to look at “ Trotman insisted that Harmon did not err. “I am convinced, I am satisfied that no wrong was intended.”