PM chides Chekwe in ‘leaked’ letter

Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Gaston Browne (OBSERVER media photo)

A leaked official letter from Prime Minister Gaston Browne to former Citizenship by Investment Unit (CIU) CEO Chisanga Chekwe dated March 26, 2017 has revealed the extent of a private rebuke.

Browne, in his letter, writes in response to a March 17, 2017 letter from Chekwe who had at the time resigned and was serving the last few weeks of his tenure.

“The thrust of your letter, is an expectation of an apology from me, concerning statements that you claim you read in the Observer Newspaper of 17 March 2017. It is an expectation that I cannot fulfil,” Browne asserts early on.

Browne accuses Chekwe of souring the leadership of the CIP.

“From an early stage of your involvement, concern was expressed about your management, or lack of it. Amongst the complaints, were your frequent trips to Canada for no good reason associated with the CIP, and excessive spending on overseas visits which included a higher than normal payment for daily expenses,” he wrote.

Browne said he kept faith in Chekwe but accused him of failing to deliver on increasing CIP revenue and improving the attractiveness of the programme.

“Quite the opposite occurred; receipts from the CIP declined and the image of our programme suffered from unwarranted calumny, that I was compelled to defend in both the international and local media. On the evidence, it now appears that you exaggerated your skills and capacity to the Committee that recruited you,” PM Browne wrote.

He also accused the former CIU CEO of manipulating the government.

“Furthermore, you held out your possible resignation, like a sword of Damocles, over my government’s head, exploiting the fact that we were very desirous of having a Canadian national head our CIP Unit. The occasion on which you resigned was not the first on which you threatened to do so. I did not accept your resignation before, and I urged you to remain, because I was concerned about the turnover of CEOs, and I wanted to provide you a chance to improve your performance, despite credible information of your poor management,” Browne wrote.

The prime minister accused the former CIU CEO of seeking to have control of the CIP Unit handed over to him and taken away from the cabinet.

“The CIP was conceived and implemented by two successive governments as a means of diversifying the nation’s economy and producing an additional revenue stream to meet the needs of the people of Antigua and Barbuda. It was never intended – and could never be – the personal fiefdom of its CEO,” Browne wrote.

The prime minister, who has in the past vehemently denied political interference with the CIU, took credit for the positive developments of the Unit.

“Since my government came to office in June 2014, the operations and supervision of the CIP, especially the digitizations, stringent vetting of applicants and overall enhancement of financial and other accountability, have been dramatically improved to exceed international best practices. Lamentably, you made no contribution to that very hard work,” he wrote.

The prime minister also accused the former CIU CEO of cronyism.

“The only intervention that was made by you, was to employ your Canadian friend to replace our expert accounting system with quick books. This was an affront to our people, that you saw it necessary to hire a Canadian to install quick books. We have since cancelled that ridiculous arrangement which was designed to put monies in your friend’s pockets. We will continue to review the CIP continuously in order to maintain its integrity.

“Regrettably, your stewardship brought no value to our CIP operations which declined under your watch. My government has already moved to recover the programme from your failure and to build-up its global standing, which is our duty to our nation and our obligation to our partners in the international community,” the prime minister added.

Earlier this week, Chekwe gave an exclusive interview to OBSERVER media on his tenure and his resignation in which he warned against “juvenile temper tantrums”.

(More in today’s Daily Observer)

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