Govt blocks PPP motion demanding answers on D’urban Park

Last Updated on Monday, 21 November 2016, 23:29 by Denis Chabrol

Despite a parliamentary motion in the National Assembly Monday night demanding answers on the financial arrangements surrounding the D’urban Jubilee Park, government was not inclined to provide all the answers demanded by the political opposition.

Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson did however provide some answers to questions asked within the motion, but these answers, according to Opposition MP Juan Edghill, were piecemeal.

Edghill presented the motion in the National Assembly on behalf of his party.

Patterson said the Homestretch Development Incorporated, a private company, began work on the park in November 2015. This is the first time that information has been put to the public.

The Public Infrastructure Ministry then took over the works of the project plugging some over $400M bringing it to completion, partly because, according to Patterson, police and fire service had raised safety concerns about hosting a mass public event at the Providence Stadium because President David Granger’s inauguration ceremony had attracted about 44,000 persons, well above its 16,000 capacity. He said the International Cricket Council (ICC) has also objected to the holding of social events at the stadium, an ICC-approved cricket venue, resulting in government searching for another venue for  Guyana’s 50th Independence Anniversary flag raising.

A well-padded speakers list of government and opposition MPs took the debate eight hours to conclude with 28 votes for the motion, and 30 votes against it.

Edghill said the initial position of the administration was that no state money was used on the project. Later on, a figure of $450M for the park was revealed with further statements coming from the Auditor General’s office suggesting money was taken from the Lotto Fund for the project.

“I would have thought that motion was unnecessary if government had lived up to his promise of transparency and accountability to the people of Guyana,” Edghill said.

He said the motion is a difficult one because the coalition, while in Opposition, campaigned on principles of transparency, accountability, and good governance.

“If government isn’t allowing citizens to access information, government can be accused of being corrupt,” Edghill continued. “I am asking government that government make a case that they are not corrupt,” Edghill continued.

The motion further called for the government to say who the private donors were to the project, if the donations were recorded in the registry of the state, whether the donations were submitted to the consolidated fund, and whether these donors were given specific promises.

Opposition MP Edghill expressed concern that neither Minister of State Joseph Harmon, nor Minister of Public Infrastructure David Patterson were not included on the list of speakers for the debate on the motion, even though these two were integral to the work of D’Urban Park.

A quick shift by the government coming to the end of the eight-hour debate then saw Education Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine traded out for Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson on the motion.

Throughout the debates, the government’s position was to defend the validity of D’Urban Park as a development project, a position which left the political opposition confused since the parliamentary motion did not speak to this.

Government MP and Telecommunications Minister, Cathy Hughes, made a case defending the necessity of D’Urban Park. Hughes recorded the success of the 50th independence celebrations which, according to her, saw over 20,000 persons coming into the country.

Opposition PPP MP Gillian Burton said the D’Urban Park, built as a monument to the 50th independence, “is now becoming a colossal white elephant in the center of the city.”

She said maintenance shall be incurred as long as the facility stands, and there must be transparency and accountability.

Responding to the question of maintenance, Government MP Dawn Hastings-Williams, second-in-command at the Communities Ministry, said the park will eventually be handed over to the Ministry of Communities, where the Georgetown Mayor & City Council will provide maintenance.

Government’s MP Jermaine Figuiera, for his part, challenged a clause in the motion which said there were no consultations on D’Urban Park. Figuiera, an MP from Linden, said the designs for the park were published in the daily newspapers.

Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira felt differently on the question of consultations with residents of Lodge on the project. “There is no evidence anywhere. A drawing on a screen or on a billboard is not what we are talking about. This is an artistic illustration.”

“We are not debating the benefits,” Opposition MP Dharamkumar Seeraj said as he took to the floor making a position against government’s many statements on why the D’Urban Park is necessary.

“We know the benefits. All we are saying is this project is shrouded in secrecy. We don’t know what is going on. We are asking this government to come true to their campaign process,” he continued.

Seeraj divulged from the motion to speak on the state of sugar and rice in Guyana, but was interrupted by the Speaker of the House, Dr Barton Scotland, who cautioned him to remain within the confines of the debate.

In his defense, Seeraj agreed with the Speaker’s position, but said there were things said by the Government’s side which were outside of the debate of the motion which warranted a response.

Minister in the Ministry of Education, Nicolette Henry, called out the government for a 2008 attempt to develop the area which cost the state some $45M.

That initiative was eventually abandoned with the space preserved as a “green pristine jungle” in the words of then-Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon.

Henry anticipates the property value of privately-owned properties along the park’s parameters will be developed due to research which links development of parks with rising property value.

“There is no doubt that houses close to Durban park would increase in property value after 2016. Access to parks and recreational activities has been linked to reduction in crime and juvenile delinquency activity,” she continued.

The government was accused, by Opposition MP Irfaan Ali, of violating the Fiscal Management and Accountability Act (FMAA) since the government did not state which minister was authorized to collect contributions on behalf of the government before the Ministry took over the project in April of this year.

Other materials for the project, according to Minister Patterson, were provided by BK International, the Demerara Harbour Bridge Company, and Toolsie Persaud Limited. He said no monies have been paid to anyone else for work done before April 21 and that he would explore with his cabinet colleagues the possibility of having those persons paid should they make demands.

The motion’s presenter, Opposition MP Edghill, accused Minister Patterson of hiding behind the new company, Homestretch Development Inc, since the Minister did not provide details on the work that was done on the park before April 21, 2016.

“There was a private company that acted on behalf of the state, collected monies, executed works on a property that is owned by the state… It is still before the public that you have not answered the questions and you have not accounted to the people for what was collected,” Edghill said before the motion was voted down by the government.