The D’Urban Park project was financed and managed in its first phase by Homestretch Development Incorporated, a private company owned by Larry London and associates, Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson told the National Assembly last evening.
However, before the government used its majority to defeat a PPP/C motion calling on government to make a full disclosure of the costs, individuals and private organisations that were involved in the project from its inception up to the April takeover by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Patterson admitted that there were no records in the possession of the government of the donations and contributions made to the company.
“I assume that this information would be in their statutory financial report,” he said when pressed.
Patterson was the eleventh speaker to take the floor on the motion brought by PPP/C Member of Parliament Juan Edghill to have government inform the public about all aspects of the D’Urban Park Development Project.
Edghill’s motion, which called for the government to make the disclosures in the interest of public accountability, transparency and good governance, also called on the government to provide details on the plans for the space.
In presenting the motion to the House, Edghill argued that this was the government’s opportunity to prove to the people of Guyana that it was not corrupt by being transparent about a project which has been shrouded in secrecy.
“If you are not corrupt, prove it this afternoon,” Edghill challenged, before adding that those who had contributed to the initial phase of the project could not claim they wished to remain anonymous as they were donating to the state rather than a political party.
If the government were to provide the excuse that donors wished to remain anonymous, Edghill said, he would have to ask if at the time of these donations the donating individuals, companies and corporations were aware that they were donating to the state for the financing of a state project.
“We see people who donate buses, bicycles and boats, so what is the secrecy about D’Urban Park?” he asked. “We need to know if these donations were properly recorded and are part of the assets register of the state,” he added.
In responding to Edghill’s request, the government speakers, including Minister of Public Telecommunications Cathy Hughes and members from the government’s back benches sought to explain the value of D’Urban Park, while referencing information previously provided about the cost and execution of the project after the Ministry of Public Infrastructure assumed responsibility.
The PPP/C speakers, including opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, referred to these contributions as attempts to avoid responding directly to the motion. Teixeira urged the government to develop a thick skin and respond comprehensively to the questions asked.
“The longer you hold out the worse it looks for you… the government must be called to account. We are asking for full disclosure. Ministers must answer questions when asked and when they fail to do so, they can face the sanction of the House,” she said.
Patterson was not originally slated to speak but served as a last-minute replacement for Minister of Education Rupert Roopnaraine, who ceded his position on the list of speakers. Minister of State Joseph Harmon was also silent on the motion though it had been reported that first phase of the project had been executed by the Ministry of the Presidency through the National Commemoration Commission.
It wasn’t until 20 minutes into Patterson’s Speech that the questions asked in the motion were addressed. Patterson told the House that in its first phase the project was funded and managed by the private company owned by L London, B Ram, G Miller and B Wilson.
Having noted the company and its principals, he, however, explained that all donations and contributions were made to this private company so there exist no records at the level of government.
This explanation was not enough for Edghill, who, when closing the debate, accused Patterson of hiding behind the private company.
“This motion is before us for a month. If the government wanted to make full disclosure, they could’ve gotten a report from Homestretch Development Inc and brought it to us. What this house is hearing is that there was a private company that acted on behalf of the state; that collected monies one behalf of the state [and] that executed works on a property that is owned by the state… It is still before the public that you have not answered the questions and you have not accounted to the people for the monies that were collected,” Edghill said.
“We need to know how much money was collected by Homestretch Development Inc. We also need to know what instrument was issued to Homestretch Development Inc to authorise it to receive money on behalf of the state,” he added.
The project, which was initiated in November, 2015, was transferred to the stewardship of Ministry of Public Infrastructure in April of this year after evidence of substandard works on the stands surfaced in the public.
Stabroek News had reported extensively on the poor construction.
There had also been criticism of the lack of transparency in the management of the project.
The preamble of Edghill’s motion cited the publicly expressed concerns, including Patterson’s inability to provide final costs for the project and the absence of information on the funds raised and materials donated prior to his ministry’s takeover.
It also noted that there were no public disclosures or consultation with citizens or national stakeholders as it relates to the project nor were any architectural designs and overall projected costs for its construction and completion made public.
Patterson explained that once his ministry took responsibility for the project, it applied to the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board to have 16 contractors be awarded contracts based on the restricted tendering method. The use of this method was justified as a means to avoid the loss of time as the park was to serve as the venue for the 50th independence anniversary celebrations in May. The ministry also claimed to be acquainted with the contractors who demonstrate capabilities to complete the project and who had no other projects which were pressing.
These contractors included Barnes Construction, H Nauth and Sons, Car Care and several others, while materials were provided by Toolsie Persaud Limited, Baracara Quarries and BK International. The Demerara Harbour Bridge Company also provided asphalt to the tune of $59,325,031.
Patterson had revealed in the House on August 8 that $150 million provided from the Contingencies Fund completed Phase 1 of the project. At that time, he was defending a request in the Supplementary Financial Paper No 1 of 2016 for an additional $407.6 million from the Contingencies Fund for the project.
Additionally, the 2015 Auditor General’s report stated that $36.509 million from the Lotto Fund went towards the rehabilitation of D’Urban Park without parliamentary approval.
Edghill’s motion was defeated by government by a vote of 30 to 28.