The Committee of Supply last Thursday approved requests by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Business to access supplementary funds amounting to a total of $927 million for works to mitigate flooding and infrastructural works at the Lethem Industrial Estate.
Among the requests by the Ministry of Agriculture, which were detailed in the Schedule for Financial Paper 2, was a sum of $350 million for the Flood Risk Management Project.
According to the schedule, the $650 million allocated in the 2017 budget was for the construction of dams, rehabilitation of irrigation structures, construction of pump stations, supervision services, institutional strengthening and PEU operations. Agriculture Minister Noel Holder said that the project is ahead of schedule and as a result the ministry was seeking additional provisions under a World Bank Loan to complete three pump stations at Lusignan, Buxton/ Vigilance and Hope/ Enmore and the continuation of rehabilitation works along access dams at the East Demerara Water Conservancy.
An additional $180 million was requested under the Rural Agricultural Infra-structural Development project, with funding from the Caribbean Develop-ment Bank (CDB), to facilitate supervision consultancy services and the rehabilitation of a pump station at Mocha, East Bank Demerara.
Further, $200 million was requested under an Inter-American Development Bank loan for sustainable agriculture development to facilitate additional resources in association with the agriculture census.
Holder was questioned by several opposition members about the status of the projects and the rates of completion, which he promised to provide at a subsequent sitting. Several other questions were directed to Holder, which were greeted by the same answer, which caused a slight uproar from the opposition members, who believed that the minister was unprepared.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Business requested an additional $197 million to facilitate accelerated works for both Lot 1 and Lot 2 of the Industrial Estate development at Lethem.
Works are said to include roads, drains, a water distribution network, and retention ponds. While $150 million was budgeted for the project in the 2017 budget, it was stated that the money would be inadequate to see the project out until the end of the year.
Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin pointed out that so far $42 million was spent on Lot One and $12 million on Lot Two and an additional $9 million on consultancy fees, bringing the total amount spent so far to some $63 million out of the $150 million. As a result, he was asked why the ministry would need more money when it has not spent all that was allocated for the project. Gaskin, however, explained that currently $32 million is being processed for payments and that the costly part of the project is yet to be started. He added that the ministry predicts that by the end of the year it will spend some $347 million in total on the project.
When questioned about the impacts of the project, Gaskin said, “…Long term investment designed to bring investment in the area, create jobs in the area, create jobs in the value-added sector, [and] bring export earnings to the economy.” He added that when the estate is finished, it will house a “business incubator,” which will be used to benefit small businesses.
He said that the project is a big investment that was started under the previous administration but which has since evolved. He added that he believed that both sides of the House would agree that the project is a good investment.
The allocations were all approved by the House.