Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson has rejected claims by Opposition Member of Parliament Juan Edghill that his ministry took additional funds from the Demerara Harbour Bridge Asphalt Plant to fund the controversial feasibility study for the planned new bridge crossing.
Making his contribution to debate of the national budget on Wednesday, Edghill used the opportunity to pose questions about the feasibility study for the new Demerara Harbour Bridge that was done by Dutch company LievenseCSO.
“In this budget, a call is being made on the Consolidated Fund for us to provide $100 million to support feasibility studies for the new Demerara Harbour Bridge. Mr. Speaker, we all know in this House, because there’s a report from the Public Procurement Commission (PPC) that this minister breached our procurement laws and the entire Cabinet breached the constitution and procurement laws when they took an unsolicited bid to the Cabinet and the Cabinet approved,” Edghill explained, while noting that the payment for the study came from an extra-budgetary account from the Asphalt Plant of the Harbour Bridge.
According to Edghill, his research would provide questions that Patterson should answer since the PPC report indicated that on November 25th, 2016, Cabinet approved $161,513,420 to pay for the study.
“In December, 2016, the General Manager [Rawlston Adams] of the bridge, who was also named project manager, signed a contract without the approval of the board… Mr. Speaker, I have information that reveals that in 2017, the asphalt plant of the Demerara Harbour Bridge paid $153,250,385 on this feasibility study. I also have information that proves that in January of 2018, a further $14,728,000 was expended and in February another $59,340,000 was expended. When you add all of these figures up, you are talking about $227 million but we were told that the Dutch company only got $148 million. Where did the rest of the money go? We want to know today, not later on,” Edghill said, while adding that the ministry went into the extra-budgetary account and took the money illegally to pay for an unsolicited bid.
While Patterson did not address the matter directly during his presentation, at a press conference yesterday at the Committee Room at the Public Buildings, Patterson said that Edghill’s claims are an “outright lie.”
“I could not use that word upstairs but I told him it’s a total untruth and it is a fabrication and I don’t expect him to withdraw that. I am just trying to dispel that we hid any money or paid anything else on that project that wasn’t authorised by Cabinet,” Patterson said.
When questioned about the sum that was stated by Edghill, Patterson noted that additional monies were spent to pay the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) for stakeholder consultations and advertisements in the media, bringing the total to $162,653,015.
Patterson also showed supporting documents from Republic Bank which show that the GL&SC was paid $9,384,630, stakeholder consultations at the Pegasus Hotel cost $886,600 and advertisements in the media cost a total of $1,903,628.
“He’s claiming that there’s another $59 million and it’s absolutely untrue. These are the bank statements from Republic Bank for the Asphalt Plant and you can see the large payments made,” Patterson said, while stating that the last payments for anything relating to the project were made in February this year.
Edghill added that while Minister of Finance Winston Jordan had stated in his budget speech that they were ramping up expenditure in the public infrastructure sector, the figure budgeted for the ministry is less than it was in 2017. “Listen to the figures—in 2017, the capital budget of public infrastructure was $29,364,822,000, in 2018 it was $24,383,670,000. In 2019, where the Minister of Finance says he is ramping up expenditure with this $300 billion budget, there are spending $26,212,032,000,” he pointed out.
Patterson on Wednesday, in responding to “erroneous and misguided” statements from Edghill and fellow opposition member Irfaan Ali, focused his response on the lack of feasibility studies that were done on projects by the previous administration.
“Firstly, Mr. Speaker, the honourable Irfaan Ali made merry about the amount of studies that this government is undertaking prior to construction, and we are guilty of doing a lot of studies,” he said.
Patterson pointed out that no feasibility studies were done by the previous administration for the Skeldon Factory, Cheddi Jagan International Airport renovations, the planned speciality hospital, the failed fibre optic cable project, the East Coast-East Bank by-pass road project, the Berbice Bridge and the heavily touted Amaila Falls Hydro project.
However, Ali took to the floor and challenged Patterson’s claims. He noted that a feasibility study was done on the East Coast-East Bank road link, and claimed that he had it on his phone.
While the matter was not acknowledged in the National Assembly, Patterson had noted while making his claims that if a feasibility study could be provided to him, he would publicly apologise.
However, Patterson yesterday acknowledged that he was able to find a feasibility study for the road that was done in-house at the Central Housing and Planning Authority in 2014. However, that study had the road passing through lands that were already sold.
“We tried to get that information previously and I don’t know where it arrived from. The project that is being designed now has been fully investigated… I just wanted to confirm and make a statement on those two things so there is no misunderstanding on the position of the ministry,” he added.
When questioned on whether he was going to apologise, Patterson said no and explained that he acknowledged it in Parliament.
“Listen to me, you don’t just turn up and bring a study like that. I don’t want to ascribe anything to anyone, I don’t do that. I am just stating that I acknowledge I received it,” he added.