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No conflict of interest; “I fully disclosed my interest in Videomega Productions Ltd”- Minister Hughes

Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes

Minister of Public Telecommunications, Catherine Hughes on Monday rejected claims that she breached the Code of Conduct contained in the Integrity Commission Act because she is still the owner of Videomega Productions.

Hughes, in a swift reaction to assertions by former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran, said she has already declared her ownership of the private media production company to the Integrity Commission.

“In my declarations to the Integrity Commission made in July 2018 prior to the declarations of most members of the National Assembly including the Leader of the Opposition, I fully disclosed my interest in Videomega Productions Ltd,” she said in a statement.

The Minister stated categorically that she has not engaged in any conflict of interest in her ministerial capacity. “I have taken no decision in my capacity as Minister of Public Telecommunications or in my personal capacity which has been the subject of a conflict of interest,” she said.

Accusation of conflict of interest and incestuous relationships surfaced earlier this month after the opposition People’s Progressive Party’s Chief Whip Gail Teixeira claimed that Hughes’ company benefited from a multi-million dollar contract to produce radio, television and other media materials for the Ministry of the Presidency’s Department of Energy.

Hughes has since distanced herself from the deal, saying that she has long relinquished “day-to-day” responsibility for the company since she became a minister in 2015. Further, she said on enquiring after Teixeira’s charges, she was informed that the contract was valued at GYD$832,000 for the production of three 60-second television public service announcements.

On Monday, Hughes reiterated that, “I have never made or participated in the making of any decision in the execution of my office as Minister of Public Telecommunications in the deliberations of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) decision to award a contract to Videomega Productions.”

She stressed that “I have no relationship with the decision making processes of the DOE.” and the decision to award the contract was entirely made by that department. Hughes flatly denied ever playing any role in securing the contract. “I have never utilized any influence official or otherwise to influence the furtherance of any contract with VideoMega Productions Ltd.”

The Public Telecommunications Minister said before the claims by Texeira and Edward Layne from Channel 28, she had not been aware that the DOE was considering the award of any contract to Videomega Productions.

Goolsarran, who is also a transparency and accountability advocate, suggested that Hughes might be liable to criminal charges for allegedly breaching the Code of Conduct. “To the extent she continues to retain ownership of the company in question, or an interest in it, she is in breach of the Code of Conduct contained in the [Integrity Commission] Act. This could trigger an investigation by the Commission and possibly criminal proceedings,” Goolsarran was quoted as saying by the privately-owned Stabroek News newspaper.

The Public Telecommunications Minister, who is also an executive member of the Alliance For Change (AFC) political party, expressed disgust at the article and referred the public to specific provisions of the Integrity Commission (Amendment of Code of Conduct) Order 2017 particularly the contents of Articles 4 and 5 “Conflict of Interest” and “Use of Official influence.”

“I completely reject the not surprising but malicious accusations of Stabroek News and Anand Goolsarran,” she said.

The specific contents of the article 4 provide:

No person in public life shall

(a) Allow private interest to conflict with his or her public duties or improperly influence his or her conduct in public in the performance of his or her public duties.
(b) Allow the pursuit of his or her private interests to interfere with the proper discharge of his or her public duties.

Provided that any such conflict that tends to interfere with the proper discharge of his or her public duties shall be reported to the Integrity Commission for guidance on a resolution as soon as practicable in favour of public duties of the person in public life.

(2) For the purposes of this Code, a conflict of interest arises where a public official makes or participates in the making of decision in the execution of his or her office and at the same time knows or ought to have reasonably have known, that the making of that decision, there is material beneficial opportunity either directly or indirectly to further his or her private interest or that of a member of his or her family or any other person or entity.

(3) A person in public life shall

(a) In order to protect and uphold the public interest , take reasonable steps to avoid, resolve and disclose any material conflict of interest, financial or non financial, that arises or is likely to arise, between his or her personal interest and his or her official duties
(b) Declare any conflict of interest in writing to the relevant authority as soon as possible after becoming aware of the conflict of interest
(c) Refuse or relinquish any outside employment, shareholding or directorship which create conflict of interest.

Article 5 of the Code provides

Use of official influence.

No person in public life shall use his or her official influence in support of any scheme or in furtherance of any contract or proposed contract or other matter in regard of which he or she has an interest.