-private company was created to fast track completion, President says
PRESIDENT David Granger has addressed several concerns raised by the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) about the construction of the D’urban Park Development project, which was established to host activities for Guyana’s 50th jubilee celebrations.
It was recently revealed in the National Assembly that a private company – Homestretch Development Incorporated (HDI) – was established to collect donations for construction of the project and included several directors. It was later revealed also that Minister of Education, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, was one of the directors.
This has since attracted the ire of the Opposition, which has accused the government of lack of transparency regarding the project, but President Granger during the weekly televised programme ‘The Public Interest’ made it clear that this company was created solely to facilitate completion of the project in time for the 50th Independence Anniversary celebration in the absence of budgetary allocations, following the May 2015 elections.
The Head of State admitted that while this might have been an unusual course of action, it was expedient at the time and Guyanese now have a valuable asset, which is a source of national pride and added that the company is not a secret one and has been notified to the National Assembly, a release from the Ministry of the Presidency noted.
According to the President, there was nothing secret nor criminal about the D’urban Park development.
“When we went into office, budgetary provisions were not made for the construction of that stadium in time for Independence celebrations in May 2016 and it was felt prudent to establish a special-purpose company… when we realised that we had to engage in contracts and agreements with construction firms to build the stands and everything else that was involved in the stadium and as soon as we could, we terminated the work of that company and [transferred the project to] the Ministry of Public Infrastructure with the sole responsibility to complete the Project,” President Granger said.
According to the release, the President further added that when his administration acceded to office in May 2015, some ad hoc measures had been put in place for rehabilitation of the Independence Monument, which had been neglected for several decades. However, since no budgetary allocations had been made for the construction of a stadium, it soon became clear that it was necessary to establish a short-term company to complete the project on schedule.
“It was decided that a special purpose company called Homestretch Development Incorporated (HDI) would be used to continue the preparations, which had been started, until the Government had passed the budget and put other infrastructural institutions in place; and when that came to an end, the responsibility for HDI, that is particularly with regard to D’urban Park, transferred to the Ministry of Public infrastructure so there is nothing secret, or there is nothing criminal about HDI,” the Head of State said.
The President said that the company has only existed for six months and he regards it as a transitional company that enabled the administration to complete the project. He said that he is grateful for the company and the contributions made by citizens, who helped the Government to reach its deadline and Guyanese are now the proud owners of a valuable asset.
“We could not have done it before because of uncertainty about the budget and the speed with which we had to bring the project to a conclusion by this year. It was just one year, but we have now in Guyana, the single biggest stadium… and it is a public asset, which will be there for all time. So we have a very important institution that is open to all Guyanese. You can have your Diwali, you can have Christian crusades, you can have Hindu and Muslim services there, but we have a valuable asset that we did not have before,” he said.
Minister Roopnaraine’s involvement
As it relates to Dr. Roopnaraine’s role as a member of the board, the President noted that it was only to represent the Government’s interest, “because the celebrations, which we had aimed at, at the time of the establishment of the company, concerned largely the 50th anniversary celebrations.”
Minister of State Joseph Harmon had earlier revealed at a post-cabinet press briefing on Thursday that the company was established long after works started by public-spirited citizens for the public good and it became necessary to establish it to source funding, after their efforts had been exhausted.
“The time when the company was established did not coincide with the time the work started, because it started as private citizens coming forward and giving of their time and of their resources… It really was about private citizens coming forward to clean up a public place for a public good. I want to make this distinction between what happened there at D’urban Park and what happened in the previous administration. The previous administration, they were using public assets for the benefit of a private few. I need to make that very clear… that this was private citizens contributing to a public good as opposed to taking public asset and converting it to private… benefit,” he said.
On April 19, 2016, President Granger mandated the Minister of Public Infrastructure to assume full responsibility for the D’urban Park Development Project as its completion date drew near.
Opposition wants Patterson hauled before Disciplinary Committee
Meanwhile, leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo, believes that Minister Patterson misled the nation by refusing to reveal that Minister Roopnaraine was a Director of the private company. As such, Jagdeo said that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) is examining the issue to decide whether Minister Patterson should appear before the National Assembly’s Privileges Committee.
“We are trying to establish whether this is actually a private company or a state company. If it is a private company, then there may be no ground to take him before the committee. But if it had some involvement with the State, then there are grounds to do that,” Jagdeo told reporters at a news conference held at Freedom House on Thursday.
Government however has maintained that the company, Homestretch Development Inc. is a private one and includes several directors. Documents later surfaced, which revealed that Minister Roopnaraine is a director of said company, which was registered in January 2016.
“Are we saying in this era, it’s ok for ministers to be on private companies that are collecting money from people for national projects and they don’t have to account for it? Rupert Roopnaraine sat in the Parliament and didn’t say a word…and Patterson did not mention his name. He knew about the other directors, but why didn’t he mention? Doesn’t that tell you something about Patterson too? Doesn’t he tell you that he was trying to mislead the country?” Jagdeo questioned.
The Opposition Leader said there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the project, including who the contractors were and what process was used to pay them.
“The State has a responsibility to say to the ministers on the body, ‘you have to tell us how much money’. What were the arrangements between the State and this private company? We don’t know what the arrangements are. They refuse to tell us in Parliament, that’s all we’re asking for. And we would like the names of the individuals who donated,” the former President said.