Due diligence for Amaila hydro project at `advanced stage’ – Finance Minister

Due diligence for the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project is at an advanced stage, according to Minister of Finance, Dr Ashni Singh.

Singh stated at a People’s Progressive Party  press conference on Monday that the Amaila Falls Hydropower Project preparations were progressing, stating that the IDB, the China Development Bank and the project’s lead developer Sithe Global Group were all working to address any concerns over the construction of the project.  Singh said that the “major international partners are at an advanced stage of their due diligence process and that due diligence process once complete we should see the project approved.”

He refused to address any apprehensions the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) may have regarding its proposed US$175 million investment in the project.  Singh stated “that work is not yet completed and I wouldn’t want to pre-empt the conclusion of the work by saying what concerns there are”. He said that “you are working with several institutions and each of these institutions is going through their own review process and conducting their own due diligence and such”.

He acknowledged that the construction of the access road to the Amaila Falls site did not progress as quickly as was anticipated however the “government did act very decisively in response to the rate of progress, you will have known that we terminated some contracts and we realigned some of the contracts. We awarded new contractors some of the contracts. We awarded China Rail the more challenging section of the road”. The Finance Minister continued that the hurdles faced were normal for a project of this size. He said that the many problems in the Amaila Falls access road construction were well known and he could not comment on when the road would be finished.  Several deadlines have been missed and the final cost of the road is expected to be significantly above what was originally intended. The road project was shrouded in controversy after the contract was awarded to US-based entrepreneur Fip Motilall who critics had said had no road-building experience. Motilall’s contract was subsequently terminated by the Ramotar administration for poor performance.

Singh called out the opposition parties for what he deemed as their lack of support for the Amaila Falls Project. He said that all stakeholders have expressed their desire to see the project succeed except for the two parliamentary opposition parties. “The only group that has been sending mixed signals is the political opposition…I think it is important that the opposition should come out and be unequivocal about their position on Amaila,” Dr Singh said. He said that “the reality is that our country needs to rapidly harness its long heralded hydro potential.”

Leader of the Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan, in response, stated that the project is supported by the opposition, but called into question the transparency of the project. He told Stabroek News that “we in the Alliance For Change support hydropower, but the cost associated and who is doing what and the various studies need to be reported and up to date”. He said that President Donald Ramotar has not kept the party abreast of the most recent documentation and this was negligent.

Ramjattan noted that the government was pushing the hydropower project while neglecting to report the feasibility studies being conducted or the lack of feasibility studies being conducted. “He has promised me various documentations and I am interested in the IDB’s position with the project,” he added. Ramjattan stated that if the IDB was having issues it was imperative that the government keep the opposition informed. Ramjattan told Stabroek News that “whatever the IDB is saying needs to be brought to both opposition parties and if concerns are being raised we have to know”. He said that the proposed US$840 million hydro project required an open system of dialogue where all stakeholders are kept informed.

Ramjattan stated that with the proposed GPL tariff hike of 26.7 percent looming the Guyanese populace has to be informed about more cost-appropriate energy projects. He noted that solar and wind power may need to be explored noting that for wind power, running lines along the coast may be significantly cheaper than from Amaila Falls. Ramjattan stated that “in a country with high unemployment and a very poor minimum wage people can’t afford this 26.7 percent hike and we need to be told studies have to be done to know if there are cheaper alternatives.”

He said that “we need to check on these other options especially now we are hearing the line losses have attributed to the financial state of GPL and they are saying this is a reason for raising the tariff…well we can’t just get involved in a Mercedes when two or three Vauxhalls can do.”

The Leader of the AFC stated that “the Alliance For Change supports hydropower, but we want to make sure that this doesn’t become like Burnham’s (Upper) Mazaruni Development” project. (Pushpa Balgobin)

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