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– former ministers say in answer to stalled projects
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), since taking office, has highlighted a number of issues related to financial mismanagement and project delays on the part of the former APNU+AFC Administration.
However, at a press conference on Friday, former ministers attached to the Alliance For Change (AFC) said that delays were as result of the absence of a 2020 budget and restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Present at the press conference were former Minister of Public Infrastructure, David Patterson; former Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman; Former Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan and former Minister of Public Telecommunications, Catherine Hughes.
Minister of Public Works, Juan Edghill had flayed APNU+AFC’s management of the Ministry of Works earlier this month when he stated at a press conference: “Almost every project you go into there are issues, there are problems, unresolved matters.” He spoke to the Sheriff-Mandela Road Expansion, the East Coast to East Bank Bypass Road project, the Linden to Lethem Road, the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) expansion, the Leguan stelling, the Hinterland Electrification Programme and more. Edghill said that these projects are of “great concern” to the Government as their works have been stalled.
PROJECT DELAYS INEVITABLE
Responding to the comments, Patterson said that he has heard the remarks of Edghill on delayed projects but the Minister ought to be well aware of the reasons. “One of the things you have to remember is that there is no budget for 2020. The budget for capital works in 2020 was in December 2019. So, several issues that are being raised about project delays has very little to do with us as Ministers,” he said.
Furthermore, he reminded that public works was closed in March as ordered by the National COVID-19 Task Force. He said that these did not resume until July, just one month ago. Specifically, to the Hinterland Electrification Programme, Patterson said that while Edghill has pointed out that the engines to serve certain communities need repair, he said that the allocation for their maintenance comes from the annual budget which does not exist. Apart from the issues, Patterson said that all engines in relation to the programme have been maintained annually since 2015.
“There was a problem in Matthew’s Ridge only and that has been resolved. All the other hinterland electricity areas are serviced well; they’re operational. Mabaruma has 17 hours of electricity for the first time,” the former Minister said. He added that there were new generators delivered to Port Kaituma and Kwakwani just this year. The former Minister of Public Infrastructure also addressed the $413 Leguan Stelling which Edghill said a forensic audit will be conducted into as there was no justifiable explanation to why the six-month project was stalled. Patterson responded that the COVID-19 pandemic stalled these works in March and it was only under Phase Three of the Emergency Measures, which came not long ago, that works could see resumption. Patterson said that there were other matters he could speak to directly but, in the interest of time and fairness, he couldn’t do so at the forum.
DISAPPOINTED, NOT SURPRISED
Meanwhile, Trotman, speaking to his management of the Natural Resources Ministry, acknowledged that the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) has gained much media attention recently for its cash-strapped state. However, he pointed out that these were issues known to the public and COVID-19 exacerbated them. He also revealed that the $350M recently secured by the new Government to keep the Commission afloat was previously negotiated for under the former administration.
“It was well known that the Forestry Commission was struggling for money. That was public. It was in the papers, there were responses from the Ministry. I’m happy that the Ministry of Finance was able to hand over $350 million dollars and I challenge anyone to rebut but that was monies that we were negotiating with Ms. Sonya Roopnauth, [Director of the Office of the Budget] to come over to tranche before the Government changed, so there’s no miracle there,” he said.
Trotman reminded that before the APNU+AFC took over in 2015, the GFC was made to hand over $600M from its coffers to build the infamous High Street building now dubbed a “white elephant”.
According to the 2015 Forensic Audit Report of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), prepared by Chartered Accountant and Former Auditor General, Anand Goolsarran, the structure was expected to be torn down because the floors were not constructed to the required specifications.
Trotman told reporters that, like other political parties, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) administration is simply practicing “adversarial politics”.
Ramjattan agreed with Trotman’s view. He told the media that no financial mismanagement or project delays have been highlighted by the current administration for his former Ministry but “marginal” matters are being raised as grave. On the other hand, Hughes said that she has heard no criticisms to her former Ministry but anticipates that such will come. However, returning to the concerns of Edghill, she said: “When they talk about delays, I can’t help but think about the Cheddi Jagan Airport and also the East Coast road. It was signed sometime around 2011 and, if we’re honest as a people, we’ll know that we only began to get a vision of what this new airport would be in about 2016 or 2017. Similarly, for years, the East Coast road corridor just languished and that was in the PPP’s time. So, to me, it is a sad indication of the immaturity of our politics.”