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Minister Cathy Hughes says will not participate in Cabinet’s oil, gas discussions over pending advice on conflict of interest concerns

Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes

Minister of Public Telecommunications, Cathy Hughes on Wednesday disclosed that she would not participate in cabinet meetings whenever oil and gas issues are discussed pending legal and Cabinet advice , in the wake concerns about perceived conflict of interest by Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. (TIGI).

“Cabinet has not given me advice yet and they are aware that we are seeking a legal opinion. If there were a discussion on oil and gas in Cabinet on Tuesday, I would leave the room,” she said.

Hughes told Demerara Waves Online News that she has taken that decision while awaiting an ongoing “independent” legal advice from a lawyer she declined to name. “I am offering to do so should a situation arise, I await legal advice and precedence on similar situations,” she said when asked whether her decision to do so was at the request of President David Granger or Cabinet.

“I am assuming that the legal advice I get will give me the scope of what I need to do. It may go beyond just not participating in a discussion but at this point in time I certainly would commit that I would not participate in a discussion on oil and gas,” she said.

She could not say when the legal advice would be provided but expected it to be made available soon that would also form  the basis for a guideline

The Minister has already said she has sought legal advice before and after the newspaper article and that Cabinet was informed on October 9, 2018 about her husband’s law firm, Hughes, Fields and Stoby, opening an office in the American ‘oil capital’ of Houston in, Texas, United States. Asked whether she though Cabinet should have been notified before the company was launched on September 28, she  remarked that “hindsight is always 20/20”.

The Minister acknowledged that the issue of conflict of interest is a valid concern, but she again flayed the privately-owned Stabroek News newspaper for failing to contact her before writing its story in the Monday, October 14, 2018 edition titled  “Transparency body sees ‘major’ conflict of interest for Hugheses over oil” . She questioned whether Stabroek News had ever editorialised on the fact that then Attorney General, Anil Nandlall’s wife had worked at the Guyana Revenue Authority and then Finance Minister, Dr. Ashni Singh’s wife works at the Auditor General’s Office, former Minister of Culture Youth and Sport, Dr. Frank Anthony’s wife had worked at the National AIDS Programme Secretariat or the Opposition Leader and other opposition parliamentarians have not filed “all my personal connections” with the Integrity Commission.

The Public Telecommunications Minister contended that she was “unfairly targeted” because Editor-in-Chief, Anand Persaud admitted that his newspaper made no attempt to contact her “to find out the facts” before publishing the article, even as she credited that publication to be vigilant against conflict of interest. “They are absolutely justified that we need to guard against a  possible conflict of interest,” said Hughes. “I think actually this was a deliberate attempt to harm- that you chose to put out false information without giving me an opportunity to say what I had previously done,” she said. “It wasn’t intended to inform; it was intended to harm,” she added.

She rubbished Persaud’s position that she had an opportunity to respond to the Stabroek News newspaper’s position on conflict of interest in a September 29, 2018 editorial. “Absolutely not! Absolutely not because there is no way I could respond to every single thing that’s written about me in the local press in Guyana and the tenets of every good journalist, which Stabroek News I know is very aware of,….That has never been the way to do it. The sad thing is that they know better,” she said.

Persaud has already fired back, saying that the Minister was using the Stabroek News’ decision not to call as a “smokescreen” on how government’s deliberations would be insulated from perceived and actual conflict of interest.

Back in 2013 at the peak of the then opposition criticisms about the now aborted Amaila Falls Hydropower Project, information had surfaced that Cathy Hughes had been providing public relations services to Sithe Global, one of the partners for the project and her husband had been Company Secretary for Amaila Falls Hydrpower Inc.

At that time, Nigel Hughes had been Chairman of the Alliance For Change (AFC) and his wife an executive member of that same political party.