More than a year after the controversy over the construction of the D’Urban Park Development Project erupted, the facilities are still being grossly underutilized and the stands are mainly used by vagrants for shelter.
The lack of use has been heightened by the announcement last week by the government that the 51st independence anniversary flag-raising will be held at Stabroek Square at a significant cost and not at D’Urban Park as the expectation had been.
Stabroek News visited the D’Urban Park facility on the afternoon of April 25. It was empty save for scattered vagrants sleeping on several stands. While the grass had been cut and the area appeared to have been recently attended to, there was hardly anyone around.
Besides the occasional vagrants occupying the stands, Stabroek News learnt from someone, who would often visit the wide open space, that persons would usually visit the park early in the morning and late in the afternoon to exercise, and youths from the nearby communities
would also play cricket and other sports on the tarmac, which can be played in any other open space.
Unlike the tarmac, the stands, which were built to hold a capacity crowd of 19,000, are hardly ever used. The last occasions when the stands attracted a large crowd was at the flag raising ceremony on the eve of Republic Day and at the Mashramani celebrations, when the government chose to finish the parade at the D’Urban Park, and even on those occasions the bleachers were not filled to capacity.
The only instance that the facility has ever been fully utilized was when the government hosted the Golden Jubilee Anniversary celebrations last year. Just less than a year later, and the facility has failed to attract that capacity size crowd from last year’s celebrations.
When this newspaper questioned one of the vagrants as to why he used the facility he said, “It does got nuff shade up there [in the stands] and it does breezy and nobody don’t deh round to bother you or tell you anything.” Almost every one of the stands had someone sleeping, or as one of the men said, “Relaxing.”
Just before this newspaper left the facility, one of the persons who usually uses the facilities to jog, arrived and explained that he has been using it for a while, since it is close to his home. The man, who did not want to be named, said he was living in Lodge and that most afternoons the park is very quiet and peaceful – like any other open space.
In fact, the man opined that while he enjoys the facilities, it is not what should have been built. He pointed out that since there are a lot of nearby communities that are filled with young people, it should’ve been turned into a green park, instead of a “concrete park” which does not even have proper facilities.
“There aren’t places where you can come after work and change off to run or so, or play a sport or not. It feels like the National Park but it don’t have similar facilities. Even the tarmac doesn’t feel like a tarmac,” the man related.
The controversy surrounding the Park project had started early last year after Stabroek News’ initial visit to the construction site revealed that most of the stands had been poorly constructed, and a lot of inferior quality material had been used, and they were large cracks and defects in the wood.
After weeks of embarrassing disclosures about the poor construction work on the stands, President Granger announced that the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI) would take over responsibility for the project and this resulted in two shifts working urgently to meet the deadline for the celebrations.
Work on the D’urban Park stands had previously been under the control of Larry London, though the government had made no announcements of his role or who else was working along with him.
After the MPI took over the project and completed it in time for the 50th Anniversary celebrations, it was later revealed by an audit that the D’Urban Park Development Project had cost some $1.37 billion to construct.
Former auditor general, Anand Goolsarran, in his Accountability Watch column in Stabroek News, also flayed the government for stating that it would not be meeting the full cost of services provided by contractors for this state facility. The former long-serving auditor general further pointed out how the company which was originally overseeing the works, Homestretch Development Inc (HDI) may have been in breach of several key laws including the Procurement Act.
“The Government must also accept that it has failed badly in the effective planning and execution of the Project and in ensuring that reasonable estimates of the associated costs were reflected in the National Budget, notwithstanding that some of the costs were met from private contributions in cash and in kind,” Goolsarran declared.
Goolsarran had also noted that it was learnt that for the fiscal year ended 31 December 2016, the sum of $479 million had been allocated to the Project. Further, the Minister of Public Infrastructure had indicated that amounts totalling $27.7 million had been received as cash donations, while contributions in kind were worth $33.956 million.
Goolsarran added that the Auditor General also reported that an amount of $36.599 million was spent on the Project from the Lotteries Account, despite the fact that in July 2015 the Minister of Governance had announced that the ‘Lotto’ proceeds would be paid directly into the Consolidated Fund and that the Minister of Finance would have issued the relevant order. The total cost of the D’Urban Park Development Project would therefore amount to $1.375 billion, exclusive of an undetermined value of goods and services which several State institutions might have also provided, he pointed out.