‘Why is he going out there making noise about private companies?’

-Harmon attacks Auditor General over comments on D’Urban Park probe

Joseph Harmon

Minister of State Joseph Harmon has berated Auditor General Deodat Sharma for publicly commenting on the ongoing investigation of the D’Urban Park Development Project and for reaching out to a private company for information instead of the government.

“His comments are more than premature. I don’t know why he is saying all of these things,” Harmon told Sunday Stabroek in an invited comment.

Sharma last week disclosed to this publication that he had written to Homestretch Development Inc (HDI), the private developer responsible for the project before it was taken over by the Public Infrastructure Ministry, requesting specific information about the controversial billion-dollar project.

Deodat Sharma

“We need the information in order to finalise that aspect of the investigation,” he had told Sunday Stabroek last Monday, while noting that if needs be he would conclude his investigation without it.

“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 [Infrastructure] took it [the project] over,” he had said.

Sunday Stabroek contacted Harmon asking whether government is concerned that Sharma and his office were not getting information from the private developer. In response, he said, “The Auditor General has to do what he has to do. When he is finished [with] his report, he must make a statement. I don’t understand this thing about him complaining about this and complaining about that. The Auditor General has a way of doing his work…If he has a problem getting the information, he has to get the information from the government. I don’t know the Auditor General deals with private individuals or a private company. He knows what he has to do.”

Sharma had explained that the National Assembly was told that HDI had handed over all the documents to the Ministry of Public Infrastructure. He said that he subsequently wrote to the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, who said that he didn’t have any information. As a result, he took the decision to write the company, requesting the required information.

Asked whether he is saying that the Sharma should have contacted government as opposed to the private developer, Harmon responded, “the Auditor General knows the format in which things are to be done and he must follow that…It is strange that the Auditor General hasn’t even completed his report and he is making statements about a report that is still being worked on.”

He made it clear that nothing is said about the AG’s reports until it gets to the floor of the National Assembly. “Let him finish his work…Who is he? Is he making a complaint? Is he asking the government to provide information? …He must write and ask for this information to be provided. Why is he going out there in the press complaining? What difference would that make?” Harmon added.

Harmon questioned whether the AG audits private companies as opposed to government entities. “The Auditor General audits the government’s business. If he has a problem getting information which the government should provide, then the Auditor General must…write the government and ask… Why is he going out there making noise about private companies?” Harmon stressed.

It is difficult to ascertain when exactly the idea of the project was born but based on what has been published in the media, it had its genesis soon after President David Granger took office in May, 2015.

At the time, the area now occupied by the park was covered with thick vegetation and trees; residents of Hadfield Street and surrounding areas grazed their horses and cows there.

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.

It was around this time that the name Larry London was linked to the project.

It would subsequently be revealed that London was a part owner of HDI. It was later learnt that then Education Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine was also director of HDI. Granger has defended his involvement with the company, saying that the minister’s role was only to represent the government’s interest.

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.

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