Kuensel quietly carried a corrigendum today clarifying that DHI had not given iPhones to the PM and the cabinet. And in it, the editor helpfully points out that: “Officials from the PM’s office, meanwhile, said the reference was to an occasion that happened in 2009.”
The corrigendum is helpful. But it is quiet. Too quiet.
Kuensel must now ask the PM – not “officials from the PM’s office”, but the PM himself – why he did not clarify that he was talking about something that took place almost three years ago, and why he misinformed the public about DHI giving iPhones.
The PM could have easily told the truth and put the iPhone rumour to rest. Instead, he chose to sensationalize it, and, in doing so, planted serious doubts about DHI’s credibility. For that, he owes the public an explanation. And he owes DHI an apology.
This is not the first time the government has raised questions about DHI. On several occasions already, MPs from the ruling party have expressed concern and objected to how DHI is run and how their employees are paid. The government complained about and succeeded in revising the Royal Charter. And during the very press conference which featured the iPhone controversy recently, the finance minister protested that “the government has little say in the functioning of DHI since it is governed by the Royal Charter which gives absolute power to its board directors.”
Added to that, unknown agents continue to fuel stories about DHI being run as a “parallel government”.
DHI was established in 2007, the year before our first elections, as the custodian of our nation’s wealth. The idea was to separate the investment and executive arms of the Royal Government. That idea is still relevant: politicians, now and in the future, cannot be trusted to manage and expand the commercial investments of the Royal Government in a manner that is prudent and sustainable. And that’s why DHI was established as an autonomous organization incorporated under the Companies Act.
But that does not mean that DHI can do anything it pleases or that the government has absolutely no control over the organization. DHI’s performance targets, including how much money they must earn for the exchequer, are fixed together with the government. And, more importantly, most of the members of DHI’s Blue Ribbon Panel and the board of directors are appointed, directly or indirectly, by the government. In addition, their operations are audited by the Royal Audit Authority to ensure prudent and effective use of the people’s resources.
These checks and balances are important. And we must use them to address concerns about salaries, perks, recruitment or any other issue that we may have. But otherwise, we should not undermine the functioning of DHI. And we must not make unmerited attacks on its image. The company is simply too important for the current and future wellbeing of our people.
How important is DHI? The company is already worth more than Nu 45 billion. That works out to about 60% of our national GDP. And last year, the company contributed Nu 4.3 billion in taxes and dividends to the government. That works out to more than a quarter of the government’s domestic revenue.
But DHI is barely four years old. So we can expect them to make some mistakes. When they do, we need to work together, constructively and within the legal framework, to correct them. Otherwise, we should support them – our wealth, and that of our future generations, is at stake.