Patterson admits receiving ‘glittering’ gifts
— Minister Edghill says gifts cost $2.4M, calls on Integrity Commission to investigate matter
AFTER being implicated in receiving a number of pricey, shiny birthday gifts from agencies that fell under his watch as Minister of Public Infrastructure, a former minister with that portfolio David Patterson has admitted to receiving the items.
Media reports have suggested that the former minister in the APNU+AFC government had denied receiving the items, but in a release on Wednesday, he said he assumed that the gifts were given in full compliance with procurement guidelines.
“In my case, at no time did I ever request, solicit or influence in any way the action of any agency in relation to the presentation of gifts to me or other officials of the government,” Patterson was quoted as saying in the press release.
The former minister is currently the chairman of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). The PAC is responsible for examining the audited accounts, as presented in the Auditor General’s Report, showing the appropriation of sums approved by the National Assembly to meet public expenditure and such other accounts laid before the Assembly as the Assembly may refer to it; and, exercising general supervision over the functioning of the Auditor General in accordance with the Rules, Policies and Procedures Manual and any other law.
It is also tasked with nominating members of the Public Procurement Commission for approval by the National Assembly and, thereafter, the appointment by the President; and to determine the emoluments and allowances of the Public Procurement Commission in consultation with the commission.
Aside from Patterson, there are three other opposition Members of Parliament on the PAC and five government members of Parliament.
According to Patterson, he had no prior knowledge of any decision or details relating to the purchase or presentation of the gifts to himself or anyone else. But he contended that the practice of giving memorabilia and other gifts to ministers is not new.
On Wednesday, during a press conference at the Public Works Ministry, Minister of Public Works Juan Edghill highlighted that the former minister had received gifts and other personal items totaling $2.64M from the various agencies under the then Public Infrastructure Ministry, over the course of his tenure. He provided documents showing the cost of the gifts and personal items that were purchased for Patterson.
As illustrated in those documents, a number of high-cost birthday presents for the minister were approved and purchased. For example, in 2016, the Maritime Administration Department (MARAD) purchased a birthday gift for the former minister valued at $60,000. In 2018, documents revealed that MARAD had purchased another gift that cost $384, 700 from King’s Jewellery World for Patterson’s birthday.
In May 2020, MARAD approved a sum of $704,292 “towards the purchase of birthday gifts.” Though Minister Edghill said this sum was also for Patterson’s birthday gift, his name was not mentioned on the documents as before. Other purchases were made by the Transport and Harbours Department, the Guyana Civil Aviation Authority, and the Demerara Harbour Bridge Corporation (DHBC).
The least expensive gift presented to the former minister was from the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) in 2018, where $25,010 was spent on a “token of appreciation for Hon Minister David Patterson.”
“I wouldn’t argue with a pin that costs $25,000 for a minister…. Nobody around this table would quarrel for a $10,000 perfume set or a tie pin and cufflinks costing $10,000 or $12,000 [but] we’re talking here about the misuse of public funds,” Minister Edghill lamented.
Furthermore, Edghill also said that the junior Minister of Public Infrastructure, Annette Ferguson, had received items valued at about $1.4M from agencies under the ministry. A spreadsheet from the DHB illustrated that between June 2015 to July 2016, “donations” were made to the Ministry of Public Infrastructure valuing more than $6M
Included in these donations were items for the ministry in addition to some seemingly personal items for the senior and junior ministers. These items included electronic devices, home furnishings, and appliances.
Patterson, in the press release, however, denied receiving electronic items, instead highlighting that for security and other reasons he has purchased all the devices he owns.
Following revelation of the documents, Minister Edghill called on the Integrity Commission to investigate whether these gifts that were given by the agencies were declared to the commission.
“The Integrity Commission is clear, you must declare any gift of US$50 in your annual declarations for the year that you received them and if you don’t, you have made a false declaration and it is a criminal act, and you can be prosecuted in the court,” he explained.
The Integrity Commission Act, which makes provisions for the purpose of securing the integrity of persons in public life, states that those in default “shall be liable, on summary conviction to a fine of $25,000 and to imprisonment for a term not less than six months nor more than one year…”
The act continues, “… and where the offense involves the non-disclosure, by the declarant, of property, which should have been disclosed in the declaration, the magistrate convicting the person shall order the person to make full disclosure of the property within the given time, the said offense shall be deemed to be a continuing offense and the person shall be liable to a further fine of $10,000 dollars for each day on which the offense continues.”
He further stated, “If they weren’t declared, let the law be pursued by them having charges and prosecution because we must have compliance. Public officers must behave in a responsible manner.”
‘RESIGN FROM PAC’
Earlier in the week, when a probe first revealed the gift-buying situation within the then Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Minister Edghill called for the former minister to abstain from his role as chairman of the PAC, where government spending for 2016 is currently being scrutinized.
On Wednesday, Minister Edghill said, “I am calling on him to do the decent thing and resign as chairman of [the] PAC.”
But Patterson, as reported by another news outlet, said that he will not resign from the PAC and stated that Minister Edghill is making some “unproven allegations.”
Patterson’s press release noted, “… the lies and the so-called revelation of the gifts are a deliberate and blatant attempt at character assassination for political purposes, which will not succeed in derailing his objective of overseeing the government’s expenditure and procurement practices through his chairmanship of the PAC and representation of the Guyanese people in Parliament.”
But Minister Edghill emphasized that there is no political intention behind the revelation of the “misuse of public funds,” neither is there any plan to besmirch or sully the former minister’s character.