Jul 05, 2013 News
Government’s defence of the low cost for the leasing of six acres of land for the construction of the Marriott-branded hotel in Kingston has come in for criticism.
Yesterday, Leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan, said that for comparisons to be made between prime, ocean front property to land in industrial estates, is like comparing cheese and chalk.
“I am flabbergasted that government can even be telling citizens such nonsense. It is exactly decisions like these why we remain such an impoverished country that we are.”
Ramjattan was referring to a statement Wednesday in which the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL)/Privatization Unit (PU), said that it leased the Kingston property at the same price of $1.00 per square foot (plus VAT) charged to tenants of the Eccles and Coldingen Industrial Estates, all being properties owned and managed by NICIL.
Atlantic Hotel Inc (AHI), a creation of NICIL, is making an investment of US$60M for the development of the Marriott-branded hotel on that Kingston plot.
A few days ago, Desmond Trotman, a Parliamentarian for A Partnership For National Unity (APNU), moved to the court to block the transfer of the land.
Ramjattan disclosed that his party, as part of the Opposition in the National Assembly, has raised concerns about the project time and again.
“Yes, we have even met with them and they made a presentation. As it is becoming even clearer now, this land is prime property. We have Government on record saying that they will not, through NICIL, hold on to the hotel after it is completed. Rather, they will sell it. It has become clearer now that the intention all along was to move this property, a prime one at that, into the hands of friends of the ruling party.”
Ramjattan, a lawyer, also made it clear that NICIL’s arguments are even more worrisome in light of the fact that businesses which for over half of a century been operating in the industrial sites like Ruimveldt, are now being asked to pay millions of dollars, at market value, if they want to own the land there, by the same NICIL/PU.
“Yes, we will continue to raise this issue in the National Assembly. We are not happy with the entire issue.”
NICIL is a government entity mandated to handle privatisation proceeds and investments.
However, Government and the Opposition have been battling each other over the seeming independence of NICIL/PU to handle billions of dollars of public funds without the National Assembly having any say.
The decision for the Marriott-branded hotel was one taken by the Bharrat Jagdeo administration without consent of the stakeholders like the Opposition, AFC and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) have said. AFC and APNU have a one-seat voting majority in the National Assembly, the country’s highest law-making forum, and have been attacking the project over time.
The Opposition has been also criticising the “secrecy” of the administration in not disclosing the names of the private investors involved in the project. This is despite the fact that the hotel’s construction is well underway in Kingston and is set to be completed by mid-next year.
NICIL/PU on Wednesday said that there is no secrecy or sinister motive behind the lease agreement for the 6.886 acres of land upon which the Marriott is being built.
“In June 2012, NICIL submitted to the National Assembly, the Marriott Contract, AHI’s Tax Agreement and the Agreement to Lease, dated 28th January 2010, between NICIL and AHI, in response to questions raised in Parliament about the project. These agreements have all been in the public domain for over a year.”
NICIL/PU explained that the administration has on many occasions issued concessionary lease rates where there is substantial capital investment on the said property and significant positive developmental benefits – the objective being to encourage investment, employment, and income generation.
“The terms and rate of the lease are the same as those issued to a private developer over 10 years ago for the said property. The developer withdrew in 2009, following the US financial crisis of 2008.”
The 197-room hotel will boast a ballroom, conference centre, a casino, entertainment complex, restaurant, concrete walkway, swimming pool and sport facilities. However, the casino, entertainment complex and restaurant are to be operated separately.
AHI’s principal is Winston Brassington, whose leadership at NICIL/PU has been fraught with controversy.
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