Cabinet to decide on disclosure of MoUs with China

-Huawei for broadband contract

Joseph Harmon

Cabinet will have to decide whether recently signed agreements between the Government of Guyana and the Government of the People’s Republic of China will be made public, State Minister Joseph Harmon said yesterday, while declaring that the David Granger-led administration has nothing to hide.

Government’s decision to release a recently signed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Trinidad and Tobago has prompted some discussion as to whether those signed with China should be made public.

Two months ago, the two countries signed a MoU on cooperation within the framework of Beijing’s global “Belt and Road Initiative.” Last weekend, the two countries signed an economic and technical cooperation pact for RMB 100 million (US$14.58 million) grant aid and a framework agreement under which Beijing will fund the extension of the Guyana National Broadband Project on a RMB 250 million (US$36.46 million) concessionary loan.

At a post-Cabinet press briefing yesterday, Harmon was asked whether government will make the agreements public.

In response, he first stressed that the “Belt and Road” MoU is nothing secret as Foreign Affairs Minister Carl Greenidge would have addressed that previously.

“I don’t know if there is a call now being made for every Memorandum of Understanding signed between the government and a bilateral or a multilateral agency …to be made public. If that is the call you are making, then certainly this is something which Cabinet will have to determine,” he said before making it clear that MoUs are signed between governments worldwide and the agreement with Trinidad was released because there was “big hue and a cry” about it.

“The president said we will make it public and the next day it was in the newspaper full. So, there is nothing for us to hide where these MoUs are concerned and certainly once it is in the public’s interest and there are no security concerns, certainly we will make these agreements public,” Harmon said.

Greenidge and China’s State Councillor and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi signed the two most recent agreements at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, at Liliendaal, on Saturday morning.

The three-year broadband expansion project, Greenidge had explained, will see the upgrading of the network to enable equitable delivery of service in education through e-classrooms, health, security through the provision of CCTV cameras, business and other sectors.

The project will also see the construction of another data centre as a backup to the primary data centre and improvements in the capacity of government’s network. No information was immediately available from the Foreign Ministry here on the terms of the concessional loan. Concerns have been raised about Guyana taking on additional debt.

Asked yesterday whether Chinese contractors will be responsible for the upgrades, Harmon disclosed that this broadband contract will be executed by Huawei, a Chinese company.

According to Harmon, the company completed one phase of the broadband development many years ago. “This is a continuation of the work being done by Huawei and the signing of the document represented the final part in the process of getting the loan approved by the Chinese banking system. So that what is going to happen now is that the company will start the work, which is to be done under the broadband development programme,” he said.

Harmon later confirmed that the construction of the Linden to Lethem road will be funded under the “Belt and Road Initiative.”

He explained that there will be several public infrastructure projects as well as several in the social sector covered under that MoU. “While there is a broad framework within which these things are done, all of these projects still have to go through that process of tendering, so it is not as if you have the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ signed and therefore every project that you put up will receive funding. It still have to be interrogated properly to make sure all of the requirements of funding are met. So that yes, this was one of the matters that was raised, the question of the road between Lethem and Linden…that is a major public infrastructure project,” he noted.

The Minister reminded that work on that road has been on government’s agenda from the time it took office.

He said the subject Minister, David Patterson, in 2017 attended a public infrastructure forum in China where the participating countries presented their public infrastructure programmes. He said that this road project was one of those which Patterson mentioned at that forum.

Greenidge and China’s Ambassador to Guyana Cui Jianchun signed the MoU on cooperation within the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road Initiative in July.

A statement from the Ministry of the Presidency issued subsequently said that the minister hinted that there exists a possibility that the Linden-Lethem highway, particularly the Kurupukari to Lethem phase, as well as the new proposed Demerara Harbour Bridge could be financed under the initiative.

“We have been speaking to all bilateral and multilateral partners. During our discussions with the Brazilians, we did discuss and explored the possibility of using funding from the Latin America China Funds to fund the road. That is something very much on the cards and something we are working on,” he noted.

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