Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson came under fire yesterday in the National Assembly after it was discovered that $500M was allocated to his ministry to pay off debts for the controversial D’Urban Park Development Project (DPDP) and the private company which mobilized cash and kind for it.
During the scrutiny of the Budget 2017 Estimates of Expenditure, Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament (MP), Juan Edghill challenged Patterson, regarding the allocation.
Patterson then explained to the Committee of Supply that the money was to be used to pay off expenses for the DPDP and its private building company, Homestretch Development Inc. (HDI).
The minister informed the House that the company had submitted an audited report that showed that a sum of $60M was raised in donations to commence works on the DPDP site.
On November 21, the Parliamentary opposition, headed by Edghill, moved a motion in Parliament 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, 2016 takeover by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure.
Patterson had told the House then that in its first phase the project was funded and managed by HDI but it was later revealed that the company was incorporated on January 22, 2016, three months after the DPDP commenced.
The public was informed that the project was for the 50th Independence Anniversary flag-raising ceremony held in May and that it would be funded by private donations and not from the government’s treasury.
Patterson had named the company as being involved in developing and managing the project and said that it was raising money and was not required to account to the parliament or the public.
Edghill subsequently told the media at a PPP press conference that the motion was tabled to ensure that there was full accountability of the disclosure and to allow the government to fulfill its conditions of transparency.
At the press conference, MP, Irfaan Ali questioned if there was an account set up for donations towards the project, who were the signatories and which bank it was going to.
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.
Patterson told the National Assemble yesterday that on November 22, HDI wrote the Finance Ministry asking for assistance with liabilities owed to persons and companies that contributed services and materials for the project.
The Minister started reading from a long list of names of contributors to the project, including Baishanlin, Courtney Benn Contracting, BK International, Palm Court, National Hardware, Buxton Gas Station, and Puran Brothers.
But Edghill interrupted him and asked that he provide the names of persons owed, how much was owed, and what works were conducted and the minister did that.
Edghill also demanded to know whether the “project that from all estimation cost $900M of taxpayer money plus $60M in cash and kind donations can be defined as a project done by private funding.”
He also questioned the procurement process used to engage persons and in response to both questions, Patterson said he could not understand what was being asked.
Even though the $500M was allocated under his ministry to the debt, the minister pointed out: “The company, HDI, will be paying these persons.”
Edghill then grilled the minister about what process will be used to transfer money from the Consolidated Fund to a private company and commented that this must be a loan.
The minister only responded that: “D’Urban Park belongs to the country and the transfer will be made to pay for the asset which the state does have at the moment.”
Under the intense questioning, Edghill asked that if the Ministry of Finance (MOF) met with HDI on November 22, “are we to understand that sometime between November 22 and 28 (when the budget was presented), this inclusion was made in the budget?”
Patterson lashed back that the MOF made the provisions within the six-day period.
Meanwhile, the concerns over the DPDP relate to accountability for financing and the quality of works.
Given that this was a state project, observers said any collections by the company and donations made to it should have been carefully documented and made public. Slipshod work was done on the project by HDI necessitating its takeover by the Ministry of Public Infrastructure.
Observers say the company should have been held financially liable for this poor work, which had to be remedied and completed with large sums of taxpayers’ money. There is also no information on the terms under which HDI began the project and whether it had been paid a fee for this.