Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn addressed the 2011 budget on Thursday last at the ongoing budget debates. During his speech he countered another member of the Assembly, Dr. John Austin who had questioned the Government’s focus on infrastructure saying, “this is what lays the foundation for growth and expansion in our economy.” He spoke of the need for “purposeful” and “achievable” goals at the Ministry, saying that they were working to build Guyana. He noted that the thrust of this year will be to “reinforce and transform the infrastructure landscape” pointing out that “we are a large construction site”. Benn went on to say that persons all over the country are building homes and that projects are unfolding on a daily basis.
Although Benn did not choose to address project specifics, opposition MP David Patterson did. He launched into a spiel of infrastructural projects that he called “cork balls”.
He spoke of the Skeldon Sugar Factory, saying that to date, it is one of the single largest projects ever, costing the people over USD$200M and is still to function as promised. He noted that the Government blamed everyone–the contractor they selected, the union and even climate change for the failure of a factory that was built specifically under their watch.
The yet to be used Supenaam stelling coming in at half a billion dollars also made the list with the blame game continuing there as well. Patterson noted that the Prime Minister commissioned a report on the stelling and promised to make it public but to date he has not done so. Patterson posited that perhaps it was too scandalous and that although millions have been wasted on the project, millions more will be spent.
The next item Patterson spoke of was a series of projects worth over a billion dollars that comes under the President’s Youth Choice Award, where the Government boasts of multipurpose buildings erected for the programme. Patterson called the majority of these buildings ‘white elephants’ saying that he would like to suggest the “President’s Zoo Fund” where “white elephant spotting” can be listed as a tourist attraction.
On the issue of tourism, Patterson shifted focus to what he called a “cork ball in waiting” – the Marriott Hotel. He said, “$1M in preparation and nothing was mentioned in the budget, nothing to refute the perception that it’s a ‘cork ball’ in waiting. Another one that he mentioned was the much talked about Hope Canal saying that “despite the mountain of paper work produced by Robert (Minister of Agriculture Robert Persaud), the general opinion is that the canal is yet another ‘cork ball’ in waiting – a four billion dollar gutter.”
Patterson cited the $80M wasted in the construction of the Doppler Radar Station because the foundation was constructed in the wrong location. He noted that not even the simplest contractor would have built a foundation on the wrong house lot. There was also the $400M spent thus far on the Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security Head Office, which according to Patterson sits covered in “vines”.
Patterson also criticised the Government for “accepting shoddy work” on the Olympic Size Swimming Pool. He noted that the project thus far has cost half a billion dollars and has been going on for several years. He also spoke of the Government’s persistent claims that they have built schools, pump houses, kokers and sluices all over the country. Patterson pointed out that the schools are built with substandard workmanship, the tiny pump houses cost millions and the kokers and sluices usually go defunct within a matter of months while all across the country there are six month roads.
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