Former President Donald Ramotar yesterday called on the government to set up a Commission of Inquiry (COI) into the D’Urban Park construction project.
“This project is in the billions of dollars and there are so many unanswered questions as it pertains to accountability, transparency and procurement practices that I feel it warrants a COI,” Ramotar, who headed the former PPP/C administration, said yesterday.
Ramotar said that special focus should be on the first phase of the project, before the formation of the controversial Homestretch Development Incorporated (HDI) company in January of this year.
He believes this is critical because the nation needs to know how much money was solicited through donations and materials that warranted government’s seeking an additional $400m of state funds via Parliament to complete the project.
“Given that we had the business community and other persons giving monies and materials since last year September to the government for this project should answers not be provided on what accounting system was used prior, and the process for the selection of respective companies for whichever contracts there?,” he questioned.
He said that he did not want to politicise the issue but to alert the nation to the importance of holding the APNU+AFC coalition accountable the same way it did his government as he feels that the present government is “getting away with too much and most times just a little pat on the hands.”
Ramotar said that since last year he received complaints from the business community of being “shaken down” for contributions to the project and many felt intimidated to say no to the government for fear of future victimization.
He wants President David Granger to hold the managers of the project, of all the phases of works, to account for donations received from the populace in the name of the government.
Calling the project a “monumental scandal and cover-up,” the party has already vowed to continue to probe until all the outstanding questions are answered. PPP/C executive and Parliamentary Chief Whip Gail Teixeira has said that the deception in the project was also insulting to the citizenry.
This was echoed yesterday by Shadow Attorney General and Executive of the PPP, Anil Nandlall who said that one his clients is owed nearly half a billion dollars from the sales of machinery to a contractor who took the items to use on operations at the site.
“There has been no answer whatsoever in relation to who did the first phase of the work, which coincidentally constituted the greater part of the project, because it is during this part of the project that the land was cleared, sand-filled and all the other preparatory works were done. This phase of the project would have cost hundreds of millions and there is absolutely no information in relation to where the monies came from or how much was expended, by whom and what process of procurement was used,” Nandlall asserted.
“I know that monies were solicited during this period from a number of businesses, both large and small, and the services of contractors were retained. I also know that some of the larger companies, for accounting purposes, requested that requests for donations to them be made in writing and this was done. One company, I am aware, still has a letter that requested from the company a $15M donation. Office of the President’s name was used and when requests were made orally, the President’s name was used clearly conveying the impression that these donations were being requested on behalf of the President and the Government of Guyana. The nation must be told who authorized these actions. The law is very clear that all monies received by the government must be put into the Consolidated Fund, unless some law authorises it to be placed elsewhere,” he added, while pointing to Article 216 of the constitution.
The former Attorney General argued that there is no law, in this instance, that authorizes money for this project to be placed in any special place. “Therefore these monies ought to be in the Consolidated Fund and in accordance with the law, withdrawn therefrom, brought to the parliament and its use and purpose explained so that its spending could be the subject of parliamentary oversight. None of this happened. The nation must be told who the people are that were in charge during this phase and they must account for the monies that were utilized,” he stressed.
‘Government or private owned?’
He said that President Granger and Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson have given HDI different ownerships and he is perplexed as to which version the people should believe. But for him, he said that he will hold to the President’s explanation that the company was government owed.
Nandall posited, “Then enter HDI, this company according to the president was a government company. However, in the National Assembly Minister Patterson said that it was a private company for which the government is not answerable. Patterson disclosed the directors of the company but omitted to name Minister of Education Dr (Rupert) Roopnaraine as a director and then asked the members of parliament to get their answers from the private company. So there is great contrast and inconsistency between the President and Mister Patterson on the nature of this company,” Nandlall said.
“If it is a government company, as the president claims, why is its registered office at some private property on Lamaha Street and not in a government building? Why it was not made public for the past eleven months, why three of its directors are unconnected with the government and why this private company was assigned responsibility to do public works?” he also asked.
He also queried why the address of Larry London, a key director of HDI, is the same as Minister of State Joseph Harmon’s private residence. “In the document (the address) is the same as the private residence of Minister of State Joseph Harmon… that is 99 Guyhoc Gardens. Is the government renting a place at Harmon?” he queried.
According to Nandlall, during the phases before and after the company was incorporated, several contractors were hired and they did collectively hundreds of millions of dollars in works.
When the project started a pool of contractors were called via phone to the site and assigned work and because they felt they were working for government began executing the tasks apportioned with only a verbal contract.
“These contractors were unaware of a private company. They never knew about the existence of a private company. At all material times they felt that they were dealing with the Government of Guyana because advisors to government were giving the directives as it pertained to the execution of works at the site. Top functionaries of the government, including ministers were visiting the site on a regular basis to inspect the works. I know that one contractor alone is owed nearly $500m and has not been paid a cent. He started work from the inception, that is, September 2015. Documents on the works done were being submitted to those supervising the project with invoices for payment and those supervising the contracts were approving the contact,” Nandall said.
“In fact, some of these contractors purchased equipment on credit specifically for this project and the importer of these equipment gave the equipment on credit because they were also of the impression that this was a government contract and therefore payment , though may be delayed as is the practice, would in the end been curtailed. Now these contractors don’t even know where to go or who to go to for their payment and they may have to sue individuals, who retained them on the site. Who will pay these contractors? These contractors were under the impression that they were hired by the Government of Guyana. Verbally. More particularly, Office of the President.” he added.
He said that the project has so many unexplained dimensions and excites so many questions for which there are no apparent logical answers that he too is calling on President Granger to set up a COI.
“The President, as is his wont, should launch a commission of enquiry as early as possible,” Nandlall said.