Auditor General requests info from private developer to complete probe of billion-dollar D’Urban Park project

Deodat Sharma

Auditor General Deodat Sharma says that he is awaiting some information from Homestretch Development Inc (HDI) before he completes his investigation of the controversial billion-dollar D’Urban Park Development Project.

“We need the information in order to finalise that aspect of the investigation,” he told Stabroek News on Monday, while noting that if needs be he will conclude his investigation without it. Sharma dispatched a letter about two weeks ago requesting specific information.

He said that he is not satisfied that he will be able to make a definitive conclusion without the documents requested. “That company, they would have collected money. We don’t know how much money they collected and we don’t know what type of expenditures they did before the Ministry of Public Works took it (the project) over,” he said.

Sharma recalled that it was previously said in Parliament that the company had handed over all the documents to the Ministry. He said that he subsequently wrote to the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, who said that he didn’t have any information. It was based on this fact that he took the decision to write the company, requesting the required information.

The financing of this controversial project has been seen as a test of the government’s openness and willingness to be accountable on the expenditure of public funds.

It is difficult to ascertain when exactly the idea of the project was born but based on what has been published in the media the idea was birthed soon after President David Granger took office on May 16th, 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. In May that year, the area immediately behind the 1763 monument was cleared of the thick bush.

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 shouldered 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 that year, the entire area was transformed; it was free of bushes and trees and had been filled with sand.

In November of 2015, Minister Raphael Trotman had 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 had 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 the diaspora, commenced work at the site in September, 2015, 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, 2016 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 Public Infrastructure Minister David 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 26th flag raising ceremony.

Approximately half a billion dollars were spent by government on the project and despite this, the National Assembly was asked to approve extra-budgetary spending.

In August 2016, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan tabled Financial Paper 1/2016 in the House, which covered $931,018,292 in extra government spending from January 1st to July 28th of that 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, Patterson had said that $150 million was provided from the Contingencies Fund to complete Phase 1 of the project. In a statement in May that year, he had also revealed that donations were made to a registered company under a separate head outside of the ministry.

It has been revealed that then Education Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine was a director of HDI. Granger has defended him saying that the minister’s role was only to represent the government’s interest.

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