Jan 28, 2011 News
– Norton roasts Ali on perceived corruption, discrimination
Housing Minister Irfaan Ali evaded questions about ‘Prado Ville 2’ yesterday as he continues to resist a full disclosure on the housing development aback of Sparendaam, East Coast Demerara, where construction of houses for some of the country’s privileged, is ongoing.
Opposition Member of Parliament Aubrey Norton roasted Ali about the elite housing scheme during the 2011 Budget debate. But despite clamouring from the opposition to talk about Prado Ville 2, Ali did not speak on the matter, even though he said he would.
“Is it not criminal that the oligarchs have taken it upon themselves to run a main from the water plant at Better Hope straight to Prado Ville 2?” Norton questioned. “While they are looking after themselves the residents of Dazell, Bare Roots, Victoria and many other housing schemes do not have water.”
Norton charged that the elite are abusing their power and giving themselves the best of what Guyana has to offer.
“The ruling oligarchs give themselves water even before they are finished building!”
Norton charged that profiteering is alive and well in high offices. To back up his point, he said that it was the stated policy of the government that a person allocated a house lot cannot sell it until after 10 years, but at least one holder of high office has totally contravened this rule.
“This housing scheme signals to all (that) the elite in this country has devolved on itself the right to parcel off the lands of the people to itself and to even go close to the seawall in violation of the law and with no consideration for the challenge posed by climate change they claim will have negative effects on Guyana!” Norton declared.
He charged that the egotism goes further, since only members of the private sector aligned to the government are given land for housing development.
He said land of the state is being disposed of by the elite at below market value to friends of the government and the houses are then sold as if the land was purchased at market price.
“This regime needs to end this approach where it uses the resources of the state to create a super-rich class that is loyal to the inner clique of the ruling elite,” Norton said.
As Minister Ali rose to speak, members of the Opposition kept urging him to talk about ‘Prado Ville 2’. At one point, he said: “I will tell you.” But there was not a single mention of it when Ali was done with his presentation.
Corruption, Poor Planning
Apart from ‘Prado Ville 2’, Norton took on the government’s record of transparency in the housing and water sector, saying there was massive underestimation of the budget to meet the demands of corruption.
For example, in 2009 he said $6.2 billion was budgeted, but $11.6 billion was actually spent. Last year, he said $5.8 billion was budgeted, but $12.7 billion was actually spent. Now this year, the budget is $5.7 billion.
“Isn’t this a joke, a colossal one, an unpardonable and unparalleled one?” Norton charged. He opined that the estimate for the sector for 2011 is unrealistic and a clear manifestation that the Minister either does not know to plan, is incompetent or is deliberately misleading the National Assembly.
“How could you underestimate yearly by billions and come and do the same thing again?”
Norton submitted, without fear of successful contradiction that a tactic of the government is to underestimate, so it would appear to have a balanced budget when the reality is the deficit is increasing.
He said that what has been presented as a budget is not a budget but a compendium of papers, since the estimates of what will be spent this year bear no relationship to reality.
Norton said that the government continues the practice of not providing project profiles for mega projects. For example, he pointed out that six of 11 capital projects under the Housing and Water sector are vague, and are merely described as “provision for project closure” entailing the purchase of generators, the development of new services, consolidation of existing housing schemes and regularisation of squatting areas.
“No one except this political directorate can know where and on what the monies will be spent,” Norton declared. He said the cost of these projects is over $2.5 billion in a capital budget of $5.2 billion.
“What this means is that the resources allocated to the Ministry are teemed with potential for corruption,” Norton said. He submitted that there is need for proper project profiles that give a clear view of what the project entails if there is to be transparency and accountability.
Further, Norton noted that instead of just allocating houselots, strategies need to be worked on to ensure the working poor can build houses. He suggested a mortgage finance bank for the working poor to access cheap home loans.
The Minister said that over the years more than 12,000 loans were approved by banks which effectively translates to 12,000 new homes. Ali said that the residential loan portfolio at the banks from 2008-2010 amounted to $37.3 billion.
From across the floor, Norton shouted that he was talking about loans for the working poor.
In 2010, the Minister said that 6,331 house lots were allocated and an estimated 7, 500 will be distributed this year.
In addition, Norton rapped Ali on the way housing schemes are developed.
“The absence of properly built roads or no roads at all, the absence of proper drainage, the inadequate and in some cases no supply of water, does not qualify many areas that are called housing schemes,” Norton asserted.
He also bemoaned the lack of access of libraries and recreational facilities for young people in the new schemes, saying communities not properly planned “are propitiously disposed to crime and other socially deviant behaviour”.
Norton said that something as basic as placing fire hydrants in these communities is neglected. But he said the government will later ask the National Assembly to approve money for that.
“We will then be charged for digging again, replacing pipes and destroying further the already terrible roads.”
Norton said that while a lot of money is allocated to the water sector, again, there is concern that there is no value for money. He said there is need for equity in the allocation of contracts in this sector. There is also need for equal treatment of the various communities. The residents of Hopetown, West Coast Berbice, are concerned that they are being asked to pay $1.5 million to connect the Hopetown Land Cooperative Society to the water system, while the villages of Bath and Expectation were linked at no cost, Norton claimed.
He further disclosed that at Burma, there used to be water but there is none, and that villages such as Paradise, Victoria and Bare Roots have pipelines but no water running through them.
Regarding the town of Linden, Norton pointed to several problems and said there is need for a comprehensive plan. For example, he said that the government dug a new well in Amelia’s Ward next to the one dug by the PNC government, but the new does not produce water and the government was forced to use the old well.
“Tell us across this country, what is the value we got for the money spent on the well?” Norton claimed the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) is investigating the wastage of resources in Linden.
When it was Minister Ali’s turn to speak, he said that the IDB is finalising the terms of a new loan programme that would see investment in the Linden water system. This is a project he said that was earmarked for 2016, but is being done now.
Norton called for Guyana Water Incorporated to be an independent institution, staffed with the required professional skills, in which people are employed based on their capacity to do the work rather than on any other consideration.
Norton challenged the Minister to bring his staff list, and claimed that 75% of GWI’s top management is of one ethnic group and that the composition of the GWI board is worse. Ali did not respond to the challenge when he rose to speak.
AUBREY NORTON FRIGHTEN RENEGOTIATION AND RING-FENCING
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