Minister of Public Telecommunications Cathy Hughes’ private business links, as an elected official, have again come under sharp scrutiny, forcing her to state categorically that she has taken a back seat from her company, Videomega Productions.
“In May 2015 upon my assumption of the role of Minister of Tourism I relinquished any involvement in the day to day running of Videomega Productions,” said Hughes, a former television producer and broadcaster. She said Russel Lancaster was appointed Manager and is responsible for the operations of the company.
Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) parliamentarian, Gail Teixeira, however, noted that Hughes is listed as her company’s Managing Director “even though she has been a minister for four years”.
Hughes confirmed that her company recently won an almost GYD$1 million contract to produce Public Service Announcements for the the Ministry of the Presidency’s Department of Energy.
Hours after Teixeira suggested that Hughes appeared to have benefited from a privileged deal by virtue of her ministerial role, the Minister categorically stated that she did not even know about the contract award because she has long stepped away from the day-to-day management of her company.
Contrary to Teixeira’s claim that Videomega Productions clinched a multi-million dollar contract, Hughes said she has since been informed that that the amount was GYD$832,000 for the production of three 60-second television Public Service Announcements. “The award of this contract was never brought to my attention, neither would I have been aware of it in the normal conduct of the company’s business,” she said.
For its part, the Ministry of the Presidency said the deal was above board. “It should be emphasized that the Department of Energy worked closely with the Ministry’s Procurement Unit in finalizing this contract. The Ministry of the Presidency wishes to make it clear that the Department of Energy is not engaged in any “incestuous relationship” as indicated by Ms. Teixeira and, has from its inception, worked in compliance with all rules and regulations relative to the procurement of goods and services,” the Ministry of the Presidency said.
The Ministry of the Presidency also denied the PPP’s claim that the contract to Videomega Productions was for producing campaign materials for the governing A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) coalition.
“That one would speculate that the contract relates to campaign material for the APNU-AFC Coalition for elections is outrageous and completely baseless. The material being developed is solely in keeping with the furtherance of the mandate of the Department of Energy,” government said.
Referring to Junior Housing Minister, Valerie Adams-Yearwood’s husband, who is a building contractor, having been awarded housing construction contracts by the Central Housing and Planning Authority, Teixeira said the contract awarded to Videomega Productions was another example of an inside deal with ministerial links.
This is not the first time that perceived conflict of interest claims have been leveled against Hughes, the first having been her provision of public relations services to Sithe Global, one of the partners for the now aborted Amaila Falls Hydropower project, even as her Alliance For Change political party had been highly critical of the deal that had been pushed by the then PPP-led administration.
“We have, more and more now, this combination of incestuous relations almost within the government where family members and extended family members are benefitting from taxpayers’ money in violation, in some cases, of the procurement laws of the country,” Teixeira said.
Concern had also been raised in PPP quarters about the lease of Hughes’ Middle Street, Georgetown, property that once housed Sidewalk Café and Ariantze Hotel to Larry Singh, a People’s National Congress Reform member who had been subsequently awarded a controversial pharmaceutical bond contract.
Last year, Hughes had said she had sought legal advice about potential conflict of interest as a Cabinet member and the wife of Attorney-at-law Nigel Hughes, a principal of the Hughes, Fields & Stoby law firm that has since branched out into the provision of due diligence and legal services to the oil and gas sector.