Release of info on Marriott was timely – Rohee

Three years since the sod turning and the ongoing construction of the Marriott Hotel, the PPP says that the information released on Saturday on the Marriott investors was “timely and reflective of the Government’s commitment to being transparent.”

General Secretary of the ruling party, Clement Rohee, got agitated yesterday when he was questioned on how exactly the project has been coordinated in a transparent way considering the release of information had not been steady and construction of the project has been ongoing for three years without the public knowing who the private investor was.

Rohee stated that transparency was not for every individual to define or to be defined by a newspaper editorial. He noted that the questions being asked were political in their delivery and that “the whole objective behind questions pertaining to transparency in this country whether it is pertaining to Transparency International or whatever is mainly aimed at embarrassing the government.”

He said that the revelation of information on the private investors was their decision to be made. The US$51 million project has been shrouded in secrecy and the release of information on the investors was made public after months of promises.

In January last year, the government was still calling for expressions of interest (EOI) for equity participation in the Marriott Hotel project. An ad in the Sunday Chronicle on January 26 said that while AHI was in receipt of a number of EOIs from private investors to participate in the equity, the company was seeking to finalize the selection of one or more participants who will collectively own 67% of AHI’s equity with a total subscription value of US$8M.

This ad came months after Head of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Winston Brassington was actively promising to reveal the name of the private investor, even giving a December 2013 deadline previously.

Rohee yesterday stated that “the project has only been deemed controversial due to the few parties opposed to the project — the Pegasus Hotel owner who is known to be a key supporter of the AFC, certain leaders of the TUC that are strong supporters of APNU; the AFC and APNU and certain media outfits aligned to the opposition”. He noted that in 2012 the Finance Ministry had released the construction contract, tax agreements and lease agreements. The released materials did not however provide much information on the answers that were being sought.

The PPP General Secretary said that with the release of the hotel feasibility study last year much of the public outcry for transparency should have been subdued. However, the study was released in parts with the Atlantic Hotel Inc (AHI) finally making the full study available months after it was finalized in October 2012.

Rohee blamed the media for the secrecy surrounding the project, contending that it was the Guyanese media that scared investors. He said that a certain level of confidentiality needed to be upheld because “the media are so gung ho to going after investors in this country.”

He said that the “The major players in this project…the government the private sector, Tourism Association of Guyana, all these stakeholders have welcomed (the project), and they are in my view the key stakeholders, they have not raised one iota that indicated controversy.”

This was not entirely so as the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s second Attitudinal Survey reported that the Marriott Hotel project was not seen as a priority. When the point was raised by members of the media, Rohee said that he had never heard members come out vocally about their objections.

Stabroek News asked the PPP general secretary why, since the government was strongly pushing for the Marriott project as well as highlighting benefits to the tourism sector, there had been no statement on the sudden closing of the Tower Hotel last week. Rohee replied that the Tower Hotel is privately owned and that “If that was a government-owned hotel sections of the media would have come down on us like a ton of bricks.”

This newspaper attempted to press the general secretary for further comment on why the government was keen on public-private partnerships like the Marriott Hotel Project while being seemingly disinterested in preserving the 104-year-old Georgetown landmark hotel.

While there has been no extensive study done on hotel use and occupancy rates here, existing hotels are struggling to fill rooms and this is one of the reasons that critics have been skeptical of the feasibility of the Marriott project.

On Saturday, AHI and Republic Bank Ltd (RBL) in a joint statement made the long-awaited announcement of the investors, two Hong Kong businessmen, Victor How Chung Chan and Xu Han.

Brassington had disclosed that a private investor would be contributing US$8M towards the needed equity for the completion of the hotel and would become the majority shareholder. British Virgin Islands-registered ACE Square Investments Ltd, of which Chan and Han are principal shareholders, will acquire 67% of the equity of AHI for US$8M. AHI and RBL said under the Hotel Management Agreement between Marriott and AHI, Marriott has consented to the transfer of the controlling interest of AHI from NICIL to ACE Square Investments Ltd.

The joint statement also announced the completion of the financial arrangements by Republic Bank for a syndicated borrowing of US$27M in debt financing for AHI. It was also announced that Ace Square Management Ltd, an affiliate company of ACE Square Investments Ltd, was selected to operate the Entertainment Complex and secure the outfitting cost, estimated at a minimum of US$4M

In all, Brassington has said, NICIL is responsible for putting just under US$20M into the project, including US$4M in equity.

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