In the summer of 1959, a Five-Year (1960-1964) US$110 million development programme was approved in London for the then Jagan government. Among the menu of projects in that programme was a contractor-financed (now called public-private partnership) project popularly called the Del Conte Road Project. It was envisaged that a private contractor, Grupo Del Conte (a Venezuelan firm) was going to finance with debt, construct and then transfer a road from Parika to Makouria (very close to Bartica) on the right bank of the Essequibo River with yearly re-payment from the state.
The popular rumour at the time was that there was massive corruption on this project. My research found not one document that unearthed corruption on the Del Conte project and I would really welcome the publication of information if I am wrong. However, what I did find was much evidence of the political opportunism of those opposed to Cheddi Jagan. If Del Conte failed, then Jagan failed ‒ that was their mantra.
We are where we are and we as a people have got to press on. That is why when the President announced at the 2013 Independence celebration that he had an interest in this East Bank Essequibo Project (Del Conte), it was a ray of light on the perpetual hopelessness that affects the lives of our people. Our people continue to endure a menu of abysmal, knee-jerk public policies from the post-Jagan PPP that does no good for economic stability. There is no five year or ten year plan, just more ‘let’s make it up as we go along.’
The East Bank Essequibo Road Project should transcend politics and its focus should be on getting the designs right and weeding out acts of malfeasance that are so commonly associated these days with our road-building projects. This is a road to make Bartica and the interior more accessible; this is road that will open up some 90,000 acres of new arable land for our people to plant; this is about truly advancing Guyana’s cause to become the breadbasket of the Caribbean. Any political leader that wants to undermine this East Bank Essequibo Project other than for reasons of poor procurement practices and unclear processes on how the land will be distributed, really needs their head examined.
The main concern any Guyanese would have with this project is who will get the land and if the process for the design and award of the contract was above board. But to just say no to this road without good reason, and to revert to dredging up all these unproven allegations from the 1960s can best be described as petty and infantile. Such actions will have little resonance with the people who are close to the land ‒ mainly the rural folks who are still the majority in Guyana. The people want land; they want employment; and they want money.
This project can be used as an opportunity to roll out best practices on how to distribute our land to all our people regardless of race, class, religion. Once ordinary people are allowed to own, work, produce, export and collect their cash in a seamless manner, this project will be a major success for all our people, and even President Ramotar can acquire political capital from it.
It was Stanley Ming, when he was with the PNC, who reminded us of this road link and its associated benefits in the Guyana 21 Plan. Even the Alliance for Change (AFC) in its Action Plan, had outlined the construction of this road, but committed to a broader network of roads more aligned to the Guyana 21 Plan.
Finally, this can be a project that all three political forces support; let us make this a re-build Guyana project.
From my examination of the revised 2013 Budget, we have adequate resources to immediately fund a feasibility study. This project can be implemented in phases with funds committed to Phase One in 2014 if there is the political will to do so. It remains to be seen if there is the political will to do so.