Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ramjattan deliberately quoted from an old World Bank report

He has made several wild and unsubstantiated statements, including one that caused him terrible embarrassment when he had to apologise to the Speaker of the National Assembly, but even this does not seem to change him. Housing Minister Irfaan Ali has revealed that Alliance for Change ( AFC) presidential hopeful Khemraj Ramjattan quoted selectively from the 2007 World Bank Report “ Guyana Investment Climate Assessment” at the recent presidential candidates’ discourse at the University of Guyana ( UG). Ramjattan’s presentation, Ali said painted a skewed picture of Guyana, pointing out that he has been using the report for several years, and has neglected to take into account the developments after 2007. In his 15 minute presentation, Ramjattan claimed that according to the World Bank report, bribes paid out by firms to secure public contracts here are very high, at 15 per cent of contract value. What Ramjattan failed to mention, Ali noted, was that in the same sentence of the aforementioned statement, the World Bank report stated that “ corruption is not perceived as a major problem”. But this is not the end, the same World Bank report states that the administration should continue to “ Deepen ongoing government efforts to increase transparency in public procurement...” It further states that “ E- government and e- procurement have also been found to make public procurement more open, competitive, and subject to public scrutiny.” The e- government project is scheduled to begin in early 2012, and financing has already been secured. Ali said too that in no part of Ramjattan’s 15 minute presentation did he talk about the factors the World Bank report actually considered important to the development of the local economy.

The World Bank report cites the major issues affecting the investment climate in Guyana are expensive telecom services; businesses incur significant costs related to electricity and deep divisions between the two main political parties with years of feuds and disagreements. The AFC presidential candidate also failed to note that the same World Bank report praised the government on many of its efforts to enhance the investment environment in Guyana. “ Over the past year, Guyana has witnessed some remarkable achievements in the economic arena,” the report contended, acknowledging that the government has engaged in “ an ambitious programme embarked upon in earlier years – such as removal of governmental discretion in issuing tax exemptions and holidays, as well as improving public financial management. New investor confidence is found in the construction boom in 2006...” The World Bank report further states that “ In 2003, the government took significant steps to improve the investment climate, that are currently ongoing. These included the passage of a new investment bill, an amended tax law and a Competition and Fair Trading Bill; enactment of Value- Added Tax ( VAT) and excise legislation; establishment of a mediation centre and a commercial court; efforts to tackle crime; improving access to land through institutional reforms within the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission ( GLSC); reforms within the Guyana National Bureau of Standards ( GNBS), as well as efforts to improve public accountability and transparency”. Ali said based on Ramjattan’s biased selection of quotes, it can only be concluded that Ramjattan knows that if these issues are cited, the perspective of his entire argument will change. “ On the issue of the telecommunication in our country, it should be pointed out that, although telecom costs are high, the government has been working on liberalisation of the sector, and has had to fight with the incumbent, a company that has tried several strategies to stymie liberalisation.

The government has begun work on a fiber optic cable that will go through Oi, Brazil’s international system offering redundancy for the telecommunication sector, as well as increased access and therefore lowering of costs,” Ali stressed. He also noted that the setting up of Telecom Agency has paved the way for the sector to be properly regulated, and opened an avenue for smaller organisations to compete on a level playing field. “ The issue of cost of electricity is again easily handled with the Amaila Falls Hydroelectricity project as well as the Skeldon factory. The issue of political divisions is no fault of the ruling party, as it has made several efforts to work with the opposition, including but not limited to the various commissions in parliament and the chairmanship of the Public Accounts Commission ( PAC),” the Housing minister explained.

Ramjattan had also argued that there are several indices that the World Bank used that rate Guyana poorly.

“ This is incorrect as the indices were in fact published by the World Economic Forum ( WEF). The World Bank reports quotes from the WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2005- 2006,” Ali noted. He said considering that the WEF releases these reports every year, a comparison of the report used by Ramjattan to the 2011- 2012 Report shows a different picture from the one Ramjattan tried to paint.

On Pervasiveness of Money Laundering in the banks: Ramjattan said “ 117/ 117”, the WEF 2011- 2012 Report does not have this index. Reliability of Police Service: Ramjattan said “ 116/ 117”, the WEF 2011- 2012 Report stated 113/ 142; Irregular payments of Public Contracts: Ramjattan said “ 114/ 117”, the WEF 2011- 2012 Report noted 108/ 142 and Brain Drain: Ramjattan said “ 117/ 117”, the WEF 2011- 2012 Report said 120/ 142. Ali explained that although Ramjattan has been using these indices repeatedly over the past few years, he has not deemed it prudent to update his information, even as the facts have changed, noting that a close examination of the WEF report brings up other issues. Firstly, he said, the index is a perception index and not hard data, and noted that for example, with regards to the Reliability of the Police Service, the question: “ To what extent can police services be relied upon to enforce law and order in your country?” The respondents gave an answer on one which denotes “ cannot be relied upon” to seven which denotes “ can be completely relied upon”. It is then left to the respondents’ judgment to pick a number between one and seven. Even so, “ can the WEF report be taken seriously?” he asked, noting that the answer to his question is “ no”. He pointed out that the WEF 2011- 2012 Report, stated that Guyana has the 84th of 142 countries best railroad system in the world, a ranking that increased by six places. What is more intriguing, Ali revealed is that the WEF report placed Guyana above countries like Serbia, which has 4300 km of railway with about 39 per cent being electrified. Other countries which actually have a railway system ranked below Guyana, including Venezuela, Bosnia and Herzegovina. “ Based on the above, one can only wonder what was Ramjattan’s motive for quoting from an outdated report, and more so, for citing only the negative aspects of the said report and completely ignoring all the strides the government of Guyana has made in the development of this country,” he said..

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