Last Updated on Thursday, 21 January 2021, 23:03 by Denis Chabrol
The Alliance For Change (AFC) on Thursday night dug its heels in and unequivocally backed its General Secretary, David Patterson, despite the disclosure of records that he got more than GYD$1.5 million in expensive jewellery as birthday gifts while he served as Minister of Public Infrastructure from 2015 to 2020.
“The AFC wishes to state categorically that it has full confidence in the integrity of Mr. Patterson and holds him as a person of great fortitude of character, who performed his duties as Minister of Public Infrastructure in the APNU+AFC Administration with the highest standards of public probity,” the party said in a statement after an executive meeting held earlier in the day.
That smaller of the two major parties in the opposition coalition of the People’s National Congress Reform-dominated A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) virtually dismissed calls by Public Works Minister Juan Edghill for Mr. Patterson to step down as Chairman of the House bipartisan Public Accounts Committee (PAC). Instead, the AFC called for an apology and vowed that the plan hatched to tarnish his reputation and make him ineffective to chair PAC meetings and remain a parliamentarian would not work. “We assure the public that this plan will not work and is doomed to failure. The PPP Administration, including the elected and the appointed, is dreadfully afraid of what will be highlighted as the work of the PAC progresses under the stewardship of Mr. Patterson,” his party said.
Pointing out that ministers under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) administrations have also received gifts, the AFC said the recent revelations against Mr. Patterson should be seen as an opportunity to formulate rules governing gifts.
“The larger issue here might be that a complete re-examination of gifting with a view to establishing clearer policy guidelines on the issue of Ministerial gifts from Ministries, Agencies and Departments is needed to be done by the government.
This, we believe is required to ensure accountability and transparency, in contrast to Mr. Edgehill’s rants, which have only served to generate disrespect instead of guidance on the matter which should be important to all Guyanese,” that party said.
The AFC also stopped short of reiterating that Patterson said he had nothing to do with requesting, influencing or processing the purchase of gifts for himself and that he had assumed that the procurement rules had been followed. That party on Thursday highlighted that it is the Permanent Secretaries who are the administrative heads of ministries, not the ministers. “The Permanent Secretary in every ministry is responsible for its financial management, not Ministers. This is so in governmental arrangements in countries like Guyana. It should be to noted that we are aware several PPP ministers, have received gifts,” that party said.
However, Minister Edghill has already stated that a more than GYD$500,000 gift certificate redeemable at King’s Jewellery World ought to have raised Mr. Patterson’s eyebrows.
Records released by Mr. Edghill have shown that he had received pricey gifts purchased with funds from the Maritime Administration, Transport and Harbours Department, Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, Demerara Harbour Bridge and the Cheddi Jagan International Airport.
Then Junior Minister of Public Infrastructure, Annette Ferguson’s name has also been associated with the purchase of birthday gifts most of which had been under GYD$100,000.
In contrast, Mr. Patterson’s name has been mentioned in connection with gifts worth more than GYD$500,000; GYD$700,000 and GYD$300,000. Most of the items had been purchased from King’s Jewellery and Steve’s Jewellery.
Minister Edghill plans to call in the police and Auditor General. He has also called on the Integrity Commission to take note of media reports and ascertain whether Mr. Patterson’s gifts had been declared.
Mr. Patterson had initially denied receiving jewellery valued GYD$504,o00 from the Demerara Harbour Bridge, even going as far as saying that he does not wear jewellery. Two days later, as more records were released, he backed down and admitted that he had received gifts.