2011: A Year Replete with Scampishness, Secret Deals and Downright Skullduggery
ENMORE US$12.5M Packaging Plant
This past year the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) under the auspices of the former Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud commissioned a US$12.5M at Enmore on East Coast Demerara.
While this initiative was seen as laudable and the facility a much needed one, the price tag attached was more than questionable.
Christopher Ram, a newspaper columnist and eminent Chartered Accountant, had pointed out that Kenya’s largest sugar company, Mumias Sugar Company (MSC), had also recently built a packaging plant, larger than Guyana’s but for US$3M.
The Kenyan plant consisted of 11 packaging machines, supplied by Brazilian companies, and has the capacity of producing 700 tonnes of sugar daily. This means that the Kenyan plant can bag over 200,000 tonnes of sugar annually. The Enmore plant has five machines and an annual capacity of 40,000 tonnes.
The Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), asked to explain the extremely high cost when compared to the Kenyan plant, said that upgrades and modifications to the aging Enmore factory were conducted to the tune of US$8M ($1.6B) alone while the balance of the money, about US$4.5M, was for a warehouse and the packaging machines.
If the more recent figures provided by the sugar company are to be believed then the Enmore plant also costs US$1.5M more that the Kenyan plant.
Christopher Ram had offered to do an audit of not only the sugar plant but the entire operations of GuySuCo, a venture that Kaieteur News had offered to fund, but the Government subsequently backpedalled on the offer.
Questionable Forestry deal with India’s coffee maker
In what is being considered one of the largest local deals of its kind, Guyana in 2011 awarded some 1.8 million acres of forest lands to an Indian coffee making company, but Government says that the process is still ongoing and no harvesting permission has been granted.
The Alliance For Change (AFC) described the deal as a shady one and said that it will be demanding answers.
While the deal with India’s Café Coffee Day was initially made the previous year, they were no announcements in the local media.
The 1.8M acres would be less than half of the Barama Company Limited, a Malaysian-owned logging and plywood manufacturing company, which has been here since the 90s and which controls more than 1.6M hectares of forest lands.
The news was made public in April in the Times of India, the world’s largest English-selling newspaper in that country.
And according to the Times of India, V. G. Siddhartha, best known for his Cafe Coffee Day (CCD) chain, has taken 1.85 million acres of Amazonian forestland on a 30-year lease from Guyana in South America, to start a furniture business in India.
The idea is to transport cut logs on chartered ships from the Guyanese capital Georgetown to the Mangalore Port and then carry them via road to the Coffee Day Group’s furniture plant in Chikmagalur.
According to GFC, the Indian company has already commenced operational activities in this re-allocated concession.
AFC Chairman, Khemraj Ramjattan, said that he has received several calls on the issue.
“Yes, the issue is a troubling one and we (AFC) are discussing the matter with a view of calling for answers. This is but an example of the many cases of corruption to sell Guyana by this Jagdeo-led administration.”
$11.7M School Toilet in Chenapau
In May 2011 this newspaper had published the photograph of a toilet in a Chenapau School Compound which had a cost of a staggering $11.7M.
The then Regional Executive Officer (REO) of Region Eight, Ishwar Dass, quickly moved to refute the claim that the toilet which was on the front page of the May 15, 2011 KN edition. He stated that the money did not only cater for the toilet but was also spent to execute other projects.
Dass told Kaieteur News that the $11.7M catered for the sanitary block which contains four toilets, a water trestle with eight tanks, the guttering of the school building which is 60 feet in length at both sides, the wiring of the school building and teachers’ quarters and also the purchasing and installation of a solar-driven water pump that is expected to bring water from the creek to the facility “when there is need for water”.
He explained that eight tanks had to be sent in to form part of the water trestle, and due to the fact that there were no large boats to transport the tanks all at once to the destination, more money was spent on transportation. A plane could only facilitate two tanks at a time from Mahdia to Kaieteur and then the small boat had space only for one tank for every trip to Chenapau.
The REO further explained that when chartering a plane from Mahdia to Kaieteur, it costs $80,000 per shuttle with another $25,000 per trip from Kaieteur to Chenapau (and only one tank fits directly in a boat per trip).
Dass stated, “Chenapau is a very far area in terms of Region Eight and of course the toilet is only one component of the project and I explained…the $11.7M is justifiable with respect to where this project is being done.”
Edul Ahmad and his good friend Bharrat Jagdeo
The Queens, New York real estate broker who loaned money to Rep. Gregory Meeks was denied permission to travel to Guyana, in July, one week after his arrest on mortgage fraud charges.
Edul Ahmad, who loaned Meeks $40,000 in 2007, had sought to visit his native Guyana to transact an important real estate deal there.
The businessman – who currently faces charges in New York that he used straw buyers to defraud a bank of hundreds of thousands of dollars – has political friends in high places in Guyana, too, his attorney told Brooklyn federal Magistrate Judge Steven Gold.
“He’s personal friends with the current president and the past president,” said Ahmad’s attorney, Steven Kartagener.
Indeed, Ahmad is a frequent visitor to Guyana and is known in the country as a friend of President Bharrat Jagdeo, who has been in office since 1999, sources told The New York Post.
The relationship appears to transcend friendship to involve business interests.
In 2009, the Ahmad Group sent 29 tons of building supplies – including roof tiles and kitchen sinks – to Jagdeo at State House in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital city, according to shipping records.
Ahmad’s “close ties” with Guyana were among the objections raised by Assistant US Attorney Alexander Solomon in opposing the businessman’s request during a hearing in Brooklyn federal court.
Despite posting a $2.5 million bond, Ahmad – if granted permission to travel out of the country – could choose to remain in Guyana to avoid a New York fraud trial, Solomon told Judge Gold.
The judge agreed, and denied the 43-year-old businessman’s request to travel – citing the fact that Guyana has no extradition treaty with the US.
Allegations of predatory lending, forged documentation, falsified mortgage information and missing records have dogged Ahmad for years.
Ahmad is currently fighting the charges even as the US moves to seize his assets
For several years now the Hope Canal project has been touted as an absolute necessity and a panacea for the many drainage and irrigation problems that plague the communities surrounding the East Demerara Water Conservancy (EDWC).
Now one year after construction started the project is only 10 per cent completed with a revised time line for 2013.
The initial timeline for the project was 18 months.
Among the myriad justifications for the project and its immense price tag- a three billion dollar burden that is to be shouldered entirely by taxpayers- is that of the National Drainage and Irrigation Authority’s (NDIA) claim that they have cut excavation costs on the project by some 60 to 80 percent by the simple expedient of undertaking the excavation works themselves with a newly purchased fleet of excavators.
Critics of the NDIAs Hope Canal have long been a thorn in the side of the folks at the Ministry of Agriculture.
Retired engineer, Charles Sohan is one such critic, who recently rebutted the agency’s claims that he is guilty of “nitpicking and misrepresentation of the facts”.
But only recently, newly appointed Minister of Agriculture, Dr Leslie Ramsammy predicted that the excavating of the canal itself will conclude by December 2012.
The building of the bridges and other major aspects will conclude by May 2013. The excavation of the canal is starting from the conservancy and will end at the seawall boundary to the north.