Public Accounts Committee interested in audit of D’Urban Park project – Chairman

The planning of what has become known as the D’Urban Park Development Project (DPDP) began soon after the APNU+AFC coalition government took office in May 2015 and given all the questions surrounding the spending associated with the venture, Chairman of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Irfaan Ali says, an audit would be of interest to the group.
Ali’s statement comes on the heels of the recent announcement by Auditor General (AG) Deodat Sharma that he will be conducting a special audit into the controversial, billion-dollar project.
Stabroek News contacted Ali to inquire whether the PAC could order an immediate inquiry into the spending associated with the project. Ali, in response explained that the PAC would have to meet and discuss the issue. He said that once the AG does conduct an audit the PAC can ask that it be brought before it for consideration.
He stressed that once state expenditure is utilized in any project, it becomes incumbent on the AG to audit those state resources to ensure they were spent transparently. The AG, he said, has a duty to ensure that these audits are done to confirm that financial regulations are followed.

Overhead view of D’Urban Park project

Speaking directly about the controversial project, Ali said that state resources were utilized on it.
He said he has taken note of the AG’s intention and while the PAC did not meet during December (and as such the matter was not discussed), “it [the audit] is something that will be of interest.”
“Yes, I will do it… It is part of the 2016 audit under the Ministry of Public Infrastructure,” Sharma said when this newspaper contacted him two weeks ago.
Sharma told Stabroek News that the special audit would likely begin early next year. As of now, the planning process for the 2016 audit has started. He went on to explain that when the 2015 audit was completed late last year, planning for the 2016 audit began; this was around September.
“We are planning now and preparing to do the audit,” he stressed.
A shadowy company, Homestretch Development Incorporated (HDI), was formed to manage the site and is now owed approximately $798 million.
In August, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan tabled Financial Paper 1/2016 in the House, which covered $931,018,292 in extra government spending from January 1 to July 28 this year.
The figures showed that an initial $72.8 million was previously approved for the D’Urban Park Development Project and government was seeking approval for a further $406.7 million, which had already been spent. The $479.6 million total which was spent by government does not include donations from companies and citizens.
Previously, Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson had said that $150 million was provided from the Contingencies Fund to complete Phase 1 of the project.
The Auditor General’s 2015 report, which was laid in the National Assembly on October 13 said that of the $305.826 million taken from the Lotto Fund, $36.509 million went towards the rehabilitation of D’Urban Park,
Three weeks ago, Patterson came under fire in the National Assembly after it was discovered that $500 million were allocated to his ministry to pay off debts for the controversial project and the private company which mobilized cash and kind for it.
It was unclear how many persons donated money to the project and how much.
The tabulation on the cost of the project varies, the last figure was $1.3 billion according to former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran who stated that this did not include goods and services that state institutions might have provided.
Goolsarran has since called for a forensic audit of the project. In a column published in this newspaper he said that there were missteps in the execution of the D’Urban Park Project.
“This was perhaps due to a lack of proper advice in terms of adherence to the relevant constitutional, legislative and regulatory requirements relating to the use of funds garnered for the project…,” Goolsarran said
“In the final analysis, it is the taxpaying public that has to come to the rescue of meeting the financial obligations of the project which, with careful planning, might have resulted in significant cost savings. The past cannot be undone but whatever happened in relation to the project should serve as an important lesson for the avoidance of a repeat of the mistakes made.”

Timeline
It is difficult to ascertain when exactly the idea of the project was born but based on what has so far been published in the media the idea was birthed soon after President David Granger took office on May 16, 2015.
At the time, the area was covered with thick vegetation and trees; residents of Hadfield Street and surrounding areas grazed their horses and cows there.
The clearing of D’Urban Park was part of a massive cleanup campaign in Georgetown ahead of the country’s 50th Independence celebrations.
A Stabroek News photograph published on May 24 showed the area immediately behind the 1763 cleared of the thick bush. The clearing of that area was part of the activities that were ongoing in the area to prepare for the independence observations. A flag raising ceremony was held at the nearby Independence Arch on the morning of May 26.
Over time the area cleared was extended. From all the information available government bore the cost up to this point.
It later became evident that the area would be used as a green space for recreational activity. By October, the entire area was transformed; it was free of bushes and trees and had been sand filled. There was also an artist’s impression of what the area could look like circulating; the apparent work of an overseas-based Guyanese.
In November of 2015, Minister Raphael Trotman announced that Cabinet had given the go ahead for contracts for the transformation of D’Urban Park into a “Green Zone Recreational Park,” in time for Guyana’s 50th Anniversary celebrations the following year.
The goal of the rehabilitation works was to redesign the location into a site similar to that of the Washington Monument area in Washington DC in the US. Trotman explained that the overgrown vegetation would be removed in order to create a recreational facility where persons of all ages could exercise or simply relax.
It was around this time that the name Larry London became associated with the project. It would subsequently be revealed that London was a part owner of HDI. However from all indications HDI through donations both from local persons and those in diaspora commenced work at the site in September, about two months before government officially announced what was happening there.
By the time Trotman made the announcement questions were being asked as to who was paying for the works being done at the site. PPP/C MP Gail Teixeira would later state that HDI, despite overseeing the work at the site, was never registered until January 2016. Things began to unravel in April last year when this newspaper reported that the wooden stands were poorly built and with inferior materials.
A few weeks after this newspaper’s report, Granger announced that Patterson would immediately assume full responsibility for the project. Patterson and his ministry with some assistance from the Guyana Defence Force saw the project to completion in time for the May 26 flag raising ceremony.
It has since been revealed that Education Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine is a director of HDI. Granger has since defended him saying that the minister’s role was only to represent the government’s interest.

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