This should come as no surprise when recently the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) placed Guyana at the top spot in the Caribbean as the country with the highest bribery rate. It seems to be the status quo that Guyanese officials are being paid bribes by a number of private businesses for government services which are echoed in an article by Kaieteur News last week “The current administration has been negotiating with GTT over the past four years for an agreement to end the monopoly. This is all balderdash! Four years! These folks are known for violating the Constitution without flinching a muscle! You have to be utterly silly not to see a sinister trend.” Liberalisation has been delayed for some time to resolve the approximately US$44 million in taxes owed to the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) or has there been unseen benefits to all the delays in the mad scramble for oil-money?
An IDB report published in December 2019, Wait No More: Citizens, Red Tape and Digital Government’ clearly outlines Guyana’s lackadaisical pace in conducting business transactions, stating that “Government transactions are a hotbed of corruption”. The report cited manual government transactions, face-to-face interactions and the lack of standardised processes as the direct reasons for transactions being vulnerable to dishonest behaviour.
U.S.-based ATNI – with murky links to China – has been active in supporting the monopoly of its subsidiary – GT&T. Yes, bribes have been paid. Multiple transactions obtained from covert sources involved with a financial crime network allegedly show that GT&T and ATNI have been transferring money to government officials during the past several missed deadlines offered for telecoms liberalization. Listed below are just a few of the alleged payments;
An account with Santander Bank, Beverly, Massachusetts, allegedly
belonging to Justin D. Benincasa, CFO of ATNI and Chairman of GT&T
has been making payments over the course of four years amounting to $380
000.00, to an account at Continental National Bank in Miami, Florida
purportedly belonging to Derrick A. Cummings, Permanent Secretary –
Ministry of Public Telecommunications. The funds were apparently wired
from Cummings’ Continental National Bank account to various accounts in
Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI). Details concerning the transfers
and bank accounts in the BVI are unknown. In January 2018, Cathy
Hughes, Minister of Telecommunications allegedly received a payment of
$16,500.00 to a bank account with Bandenia Bank & Trust Co. in
Dominica from one of Benincasa’s accounts in the BVI, Tortola. The
payment was made the same month that Minister Hughes confirmed the
government was in negotiations to end the monopoly and a month prior to
the announcement from GT&T stating that it is ready to partner with
the Oil and Gas Industry. Note that GT&T have emphasized how they
would be the leading telecommunications company and the best to support
the oil and gas industry. The same month, a $300,000 interest-free loan
from the National Bank of Industry & Commerce, Ltd. (Guyana) was
guaranteed by Justin D. Benincasa to Derrick A. Cummings. Sources
alleged that no interest will be charged on the loan and repayment is
due January 2021. The allegations continue as the plot thickens on
August 23, 2018, Nigel Hughes, husband of Minister Cathy Hughes,
conveniently received a payment a month before establishment a Texas
legal entity in Houston, Hughes, Fields & Stoby (USA) PLLC.
targeting oil and gas companies doing business in the South American
country. Hughes, Fields & Stoby (USA) was officially launched in
Multiple allegations of conflict of interest been leveled at Cathy Hughes for having connections with personal private companies that were awarded contracts by the Government to complete works. It was stated that Cathy Hughes, received another two additional payments in October originating from an account owned by Justin D. Benincasa. Other sources, we are not at liberty to disclose, revealed that Justin Nedd, CEO of GT&T, on occasion brings an envelope with cash to Minister Hughes.
What is further disconcerting, is the lack of transparency displayed inside deals and lack of urgency. In July 2016, the Government passed the Telecommunication (Amendment) Bill to liberalise the telecoms sector by ending the monopoly which the Guyana Telephone Telegraph (GTT) had enjoyed for over 25 years, however, GTT wanted a $US44M tax debt settled before moving ahead with liberalization. This should have been passed a long time ago and what makes it worse is that a secret MoU with Government, committing both sides to settle all outstanding issues that were signed in May 2019. A secret MoU!? So, we don’t know what’s there? According to the Opposition Leader, if another MoU was signed after March 2019 between the Government and the GTT without public knowledge, then it leaves many questions to be answered… This prevailing national disaster leaves many questions to be answered…
It is surprising that the United States Department of Justice has not started an investigation into ATNI under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) which is a United States law passed in 1977 that prohibits U.S. firms and individuals from paying bribes to foreign officials in furtherance of a business deal.