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Stabroek News ‘attacked’ me in conflict of interest report- Cathy Hughes; Editor-in-Chief says “smokescreen” for “unanswered” questions

Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes.

Even as the Minister of Public Telecommunication, Cathy Hughes on Monday fended off claims of potential conflict of interest as a result of her husband’s legal services in the oil and gas sector, the privately-owned Stabroek News newspaper said the Hugheses had sufficient time to allay fears and concerns.

Editor-in-Chief, Anand Persaud said his newspaper did not contact the Hugheses before publishing Monday’s article, but said the couple had ample time from September, 28, 2018- the night of the launch of the Houston, Texas, United States-based law office of Hughes, Fields and Stoby at Marriott Hotel- and also an editorial on the issue on September 30. Her husband, Attorney-at-law Nigel Hughes, is the firm’s managing partner.

Now that Minister Hughes has said she informed Cabinet on October 9, 2018 of the intention by her husband’s law firm to open an office in the United States, Persaud said there were real issues to be addressed such as her participation in Cabinet meetings when hydrocarbon-related issues are being discussed. Persaud questioned why the Minister informed Cabinet 11 days after the US office was launched.

“Not contacting them is really a smokescreen. The real issue is how this real and actual conflict of interest is going to be addressed,” Persaud told Demerara Waves Online News. “How will government business be insulated from the perceived and actual conflict of interest and that still has not been addressed,” he said.

Reacting sharply to an article in the Monday edition of Stabroek News newspaper, Hughes said the Integrity Commission was informed in July and Cabinet in October.

“On the day of July 4, 2018 I submitted my declaration of assets and interest to the Integrity Commission. I am aware that the contents of my declaration are confidential but I will disclose that included in my declaration was a clear statement of my marriage to the Managing Partner of Hughes, Fields and Stoby and his interest in the firm.

Following my submission to the Integrity Commission on the 9th day of October 2018 I repeated my disclosure to the Cabinet about my husband’s position as Managing Partner of Hughes Fields and Stoby as well as the firm’s intention to establish an office in Houston,” she said.

The Public Telecommunication Minister also restated what the Hughes, Fieldsand Stoby law firm said earlier Monday- legal advice was sought even before the Stabroek News report.

“I also prior to the publication of the article, sought legal advice on the disclosure and compliance requirements set out in the Laws of Guyana,” she said.

The Minister and the Law firm have separately criticised the Stabroek News newspaper for failing to contact them on the claims by the Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc of potential conflict of interest between the Hughes to the extent that the Law firm could access privileged information on proposed laws, regulations from her.

“I am aware that despite their previous experience to the contrary, it must have been very difficult for the Stabroek News to contact me over the week. My phone records have not disclosed any attempts to solicit any comments from me. This is interesting since for many years now the publication has been in possession of my contact numbers and in the past has contacted me on several occasions including after hours and on weekends.
It continues to be my fervent hope that in their efforts to express their views on activities of Ministers of the Government that Stabroek News would at least conduct the most rudimentary of inquiries prior to publication to ensure balance, objectivity and fairness which still is the foundation of good journalism,” she said.

The Minister called the Stabroek News article an “expressed and implied attack on me”