By: Kiana Wilburg
Head of the State Asset Recovery Unit, Dr. Clive Thomas recently expressed that he is heartened by the comments expressed during the latest debate over the revocation of the radio, television and cable licences issued by former President Jagdeo before he demitted office in 2011.
The Presidential Advisor on Sustainable Development recalled that political activist Dr. David Hinds noted that the matter is one which should be looked into by SARU as it involves the arbitrary granting of the spectrum which is a valuable national asset.
Dr. Thomas said that indeed it is a matter of national importance and should be treated with expeditiously. He also agreed with the contention by Dr. Hinds that the issue is one that should be looked at by SARU.
Professor Thomas said, “I agree that it is a matter that we should look into because the grant of the radio licences was done in a way that is not consistent with the laws. It is one of those matters that goes against the principles of equitable distribution, fairness and justice.”
The SARU Head added, “It was improper and I have always held that view. But we do understand that the Guyana Broadcasting Authority (GNBA) as the responsible agency for the sector is expected to take some moves in this regard. We don’t know what those moves are but we are watching everything with regard to this matter.”
Professor Thomas noted however that he was not happy to hear statements which suggest that there should be the issuance of new licences. Dr. Thomas is of the view that the licences which were arbitrarily awarded need to be rescinded first.
In this regard he said, “If you just go ahead without rectifying the corruption that took place then you would be setting a dangerous precedence for the way forward. Setting it right allows you to move forward on a clear and defined path. The sector and the system have been tainted with Jagdeo’s actions and to issue new licences without rectifying that, I am afraid, will send a dangerous message.”
The Head of SARU insists that a standard and direction must be set for the way forward or else it is likely that the same “wretched mistake is going to be repeated.”
He noted that while the matter is one which SARU has strong interests in as it involves premium state assets, time will be given for GNBA to decide on what it will do with regard to the matter.
“But GNBA’s action would not affect how we intend to deal with this matter or our intention to look into it. We are responsible for such things, that is, state assets which have been misused or granted to persons illegally,” the Head of SARU noted.
In the meantime, Dr. Thomas said that they are waiting until his department, which falls under the Ministry of the Presidency, becomes a legally constituted agency, to attack the matter.
He said that moves in that regard are swift. He said that the unit has been in receipt of the revised version of its proposed laws and the United Nations and World Bank are expected to continue some works on it.
The SARU Head said that the proposed Act is expected to be circulated by the end of the month and that will be followed by several stakeholder consultations on it.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Carl Greenidge, was one of the Government officials who had added his voice to the debate over the revocation of the granted radio and cable licences under the Jagdeo regime.
Greenidge said that as far as he is aware, the coalition party has not changed its position on this matter.
He made it clear that his support for the revocation of those unlawful licences during the 2015 election campaign remains the same.
The Foreign Affairs Minister said, “I most certainly do hold the same view and, of course, stand by my earlier comments on the matter. Nothing has occurred by way of new information to persuade me to change my mind. The act by former President Bharrat Jagdeo was improper, reprehensible and illegal.”
The Member of Parliament said that as a President, one should not use the position to hand out state assets to family, associates’ families and or political parties. He said that it was wrong in 2011 and it is still wrong.
Greenidge said that if the illegal radio and cable licences are not revoked, then Guyana would lose.
“If it were my personal or your property that had been stolen and misappropriated, you would not think it necessary to ask if the wrong committed should be corrected. We should stop regarding national assets and state property as free goods which involve no loss if misappropriated. If we do, then we all lose.”
Weeks before leaving office, former President Bharrat Jagdeo awarded his best friend, Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, five radio frequencies; New Guyana Company Limited, five, and Telcor and Cultural Broadcasting Inc., another five.
Jagdeo also ordered the grant of two cable licences to two of his closest friends, Vishok Persaud and Brian Yong.
GNBA Officials revealed recently that Jagdeo’s ad hoc approach has led to prime spots on the spectrum being taken up.
All premium spots on the television and cable channel frequencies are gone. There is little space left for new applicants on the radio spectrum.