By Elesha George
Vice Chairman of the National Asset Management Company (NAMCO) and Cabinet spokesman, Melford Nicholas has taken umbrage to comments made by Akaash Maharaj, Ambassador-at-Large for the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption.
On October 13th, 2019, Maharaj a panellist on OBSERVER media’s Sunday programme The Big Issues, said “if there is one rule that one should follow in any democracy, is never trust government ministers”.
He went on to say that his comment was not predicated on whether ministers in Antigua and Barbuda are “above average or below average, it’s simply the basis, that without oversight and without transparency, corruption becomes not merely possible, but inevitable”.
Nicholas, who also serves as the Minister of Information, Broadcasting, Telecommunications & Information Technology in the current regime, was evidently incensed by the ambassador’s comments, as during an appearance on OBSERVER AM on Tuesday October 13thhe stated:”I take strong objection to what Mr Maharaj said … that man has no integrity in this matter. As far as I’m concerned, he has only an academic interest.
“He made a broad statement against me, whom he has never met. He has accused me of being inherently corrupt because I became a politician,” Nicholas said of Maharaj, whom he claimed “represents post-colonial economy” which would have lent to a historical problem with the formation of capital in countries like Antigua & Barbuda.
“I cannot overlook the fact that someone who has no roots in this country, knows nothing about the people here, could come and make some sweeping statements and OBSERVER could have allowed him to make that statement without filter,” the minister said.
He offered that Maharaj was “misinformed on a number of points” including on the transparency and governance of the government-controlled NAMCO.
Nicholas said that contrary to Maharaj’s inclination, “there is absolutely no secrecy about the operations of NAMCO”, adding that the accounting firm PACS Antigua Limited is expected to complete a financial report for the company, which will then be subjected to audit.
He explained that “These are internally prepared reports. These are the accounts of NAMCO that are now being prepared. They will of course be subject to audit and the auditors having received the full report once the board would have met on the next occasion, and I imagine that would be next Friday, and the board will presumably accept the report from the accountant firm and then invite the auditors to have a look-over and then upon that point in time, the Cabinet will then review the [financial] report and the audited report then make its submission to Parliament”.
“I would think that by the end of the next budget presentation in parliament, I believe on or around February, we would be in a position for the Minister of Finance to come back to the Parliament”, he said, in response to the question of a deadline for these financial reports.
The minister also insisted that Cabinet Ministers serving on NAMCO’s board, does not present a conflict of interest, offering that “the government does not take a disinterest in what it is doing”.
According to Nicholas, NAMCO has financial interests in and have completed the due diligence process necessary, to have made the investment in the Blue Oceans Marine and the Sunshine Hub Car Park.
NAMCO, he said, would have also invested in two bonds in the Antigua Pier Group between 2018-2019, “to ensure that there was continuity”.
He explained that “Global Ports now having completed one aspect of the contractual arrangements, which is to take over the loan for the Antigua Pier Group from Antigua Commercial Bank, the intention is that the bond will be refunded of course with interest by the Antigua Pier Group in respect of Global Ports applications to the Antigua Pier Group when they take over.”
Other companies which NAMCO is perceived to have financial interest in, Nicholas informed, have not had the processes completed.
He said “The intention is for that all of the government’s private interests be vested in NAMCO but there are some legal proceedings that have to be done”, that would include West Indies Oil Company, State Insurance and, according to the spokesman, “any other entities”.