In addition to tapping into the Contingency and Lotto funds, the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI) sourced money from its road works and infrastructure development budget to complete D’Urban Park, according to the preliminary findings of the Auditor General, which also said there is no evidence of checks on works for which the private company that started the project was given half a billion.
The findings of an ongoing special investigation into the spending associated with the controversial project were included in the 2017 Auditor General’s report on the public accounts of Guyana, which was presented to the National Assembly yesterday. The Audit Office commenced the investigation earlier this year.
The report says that up to December 31st, 2017, amounts totaling almost $1.150 billion were spent on the project.
Providing a breakdown, the report states that in 2015, $36,509,000 was sourced from the Lotto Fund, while in 2016, $60,394,000 came from Infrastructural Develop-ment under MPI; $118,124,000 from Maintenance of Roads under MPI, and sums of $150 million and $256,758,000 from the Contingency Fund. In 2017, $500 million was sourced from Infrastruc-tural Develop-ment and $28,215, 000 from Main-tenance of other Infrastruc-ture. The grand total of these amounts is $1,149,997,000.
The 2015 figure was referenced in that year’s Auditor General’s report, which noted that no approval was given for the use of that money. The 2017 report did not expound on the money taken directly from the ministry.
The report says payment vouchers to support expenditure totalling $107.119 million were not produced for audit examination. As a result, it stated that “the completeness, accuracy, and validity of this amount could not be determined.”
Homestretch Develop-ment Inc (HDI), a private company with Larry London as one of its principals, started the project in September, 2015, about two months before government officially announced what was happening.
The report states that the sum of $500 million was paid to HDI in 2017 by MPI to enable it to meet its obligation to its creditors. “However, there was no documentation attached to the Payment Vouchers to indicate the works done, supervisory checks carried out on the works, as well as certification that the works were satisfactorily completed,” it said while reiterating that only the list of HDI’s creditors and government’s proposed payment allocation to each creditor was attached to the Payment Vouchers. “In the circumstances, the correctness, accuracy and validity of the payments made could not be determined,” the document said.
It added that in response to a request for documentation, the Permanent Secretary explained that the Ministry was “not involved in the operations of HDI; hence, it did not have any information detailing supervisory checks or their methodology of determining that works were satisfactorily completed.”
Subject Minister David Patterson had explained to the National Assembly in November 2016 that HDI wrote to the Finance Ministry asking for assistance with liabilities owed to persons and companies that contributed services and materials for the project.
The minister identified some of the contributors to the project as Baishanlin, Courtney Benn Contrac-ting, BK International, Palm Court, National Hardware, Buxton Gas Station, and Puran Brothers.
PPP/C MP Juan Edghill had asked the minister to provide the names of persons owed, how much was owed, and what works were conducted, as well as to state whether the “project that from all estimation cost $900 million of taxpayer money plus $60 million in cash and kind donations, can be defined as a project done by private funding”, before questioning the procurement process used to engage persons.
Several days later, Finance Minister Winston Jordan informed that the $500 million allocated to pay debts owed by HDI for the project was the full and final settlement the government was willing to make.
It is unclear when the special investigation will be completed.
HDI commenced work on the site using donations both from local persons and those in the diaspora.
In November of 2015, then Governance Minister Raphael Trotman an-nounced 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 in the following year.
However, a month before the independence celebrations, President David Granger announced that the MPI was taking over the project. There had been embarrassing disclosures about the poor construction work on the stands that were built to hold an estimated 19,000 spectators for the May 26th event.
Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran had called for a forensic audit of the project. In a column which appeared in this newspaper in December 2016, he had pointed out that there were missteps in the execution of the project.
“This was perhaps due to a lack of proper advice in terms of adherence to the relevant constitutional, legislative and regulatory requirements relating to the use of funds garnered for the project…,” Goolsarran had said.
“In the final analysis, it is the taxpaying public that has to come to the rescue of meeting the financial obligations of the project which, with careful planning, might have resulted in significant cost savings. The past cannot be undone but whatever happened in relation to the project should serve as an important lesson for the avoidance of a repeat of the mistakes made,” he added.