The Public Works Ministry flew reporters into the Amaila area on Tuesday for a first-hand look at sections of the road as the government looked to drum up popular sentiment against the opposition’s vote against legislation connected to the US$840M project.
“We have the studies done both environmental, social and hydropower dam studies done, we have the contractor for the building of the dam in place and we’re ready to go so it would be a great shame and a great reversal of our country’s fortunes if we are unable to complete this project,” Minister Robeson Benn said.
The 165-kilometre road is said to be some 67 percent completed and will be laterite-surfaced instead of asphaltic.
Benn added that there were challenges on two of the seven sections of the road, namely Section 7, which is the approach to the dam, and Section 2B. The latter runs through swamplands and the initial contractor on that leg had lost two machines and damaged another two in the swamp.
The APNU and the AFC have linked passage of the Amaila legislation to assent for the four local government bills set to come before the House on Thursday. But while they are government bills the administration has expressed concerns with two of the bills after their exit from a Special Select Committee in which the opposition parties used their majority to make amendments.
The APNU has said it needs a concrete commitment that the bills would be assented to by President Donald Ramotar after its passage through the House in order to support the Amaila legislation. The AFC for its part has said it is awaiting the IDB’s green light for the project before raising the debt ceiling from GUY$1B to $150B as is being sought by the government.
The government only needs one of the parties to side with it on the vote for the Amaila legislation but questions from Demerara Waves Online News about a guarantee of presidential assent has been met repeatedly with vehemence.
The question was posed again on Thursday, this time to Benn.
“I have known of no situation where a minister brought a bill to the parliament and it wasn’t supported … the very fact that they brought the bill presupposes that the bill will be passed, and that it will be assented to on our side,” he said.
Asked further if the president was prepared to make that commitment the minister then said he was not in a position to say what the president “may or may not do.”
Benn then went on to say that he saw no link between the local government bills and the Amaila Project which he said was bigger than those things at the moment.
“We could get elections tomorrow, next week or next year, local government elections or national elections at any time going along whenever it’s decided but we must have the Amaila Falls Project.”
Asked whether strengthening local democracy was of lesser importance than the Amaila Project Benn said he was not.
“If we cannot get a project of this nature going in the country we’ll continue to be poor, underdeveloped and still quarrelling with each other,” the Works Minister said adding that it was an opportune time for the project.
The government has said that based on an estimated 20 percent reduction in electricity tariff from the start of Amaila’s operation residential consumers save approximately $208.7 million monthly or $2.5 billion annually.
And with cheap and reliable power long being a bane of the local industry it is estimated that commercial entities would save some $1.1B annually.
According to figures from the government, it is estimated that the Amaila Hydropower Project could see a reduction in electricity rates by as much as 40 percent while the fuel import bill could drop between 20 and 25 percent.