Mar 07, 2015 News
– urges shares be available to local businesses
The Opposition has recommended local businesses have an opportunity to bid for Marriott shares, now that the hotel in Kingston is near completion.
Responding to recent disclosures by Government that it has spent more than US$58M of taxpayers’ dollars to construct the hotel and its adjoining casino and restaurant, Prime Ministerial Candidate, Moses Nagamootoo, of A Partnership For National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) coalition, insisted that a strong case has been made by the Marriott project to warrant a full blown investigation.
On Wednesday, Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon, disclosed that court cases and other factors caused investors’ monies to be delayed. This forced the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) to shell out more than US$58M to construct the hotel.
Government said that despite this, it remains bent on its decision to go ahead with a number of investors who have to date not yet been able to put in a cent but will still have an opportunity to own shares in the hotel.
The disclosures have raised questions about where NICIL found the monies and the lack of oversight from the National Assembly, already a major issue of contention between the administration and the Opposition.
Yesterday, Nagamootoo, also a lawyer, made it clear that the Marriott Hotel is here to stay despite misgivings over the way the project was put together in the beginning.
“It remains part of the landscape of Georgetown; a Guyanese asset. Our new government will aim at basic cost recovery and invite the local private sector to bid for the hotel. A new government ought to investigate this project, more especially the role of NICIL and the oligarchic crew including Ashni Singh (Minister of Finance) and (Winston) Brassington, in this deal.”
Brassington is NICIL’s head who has been fingered in a number of questionable deals on behalf of the Government.
According to Nagamootoo, any probe must focus on whether former President Bharrat Jagdeo is culpable for this massive drain of public funds.
“A new government must deal with the structure as a fait accompli but must address the issue of financial misadventure aggressively. My biggest qualm with Jagdeo was over our international reserves, when it stood at US$500 million, whether it ought to be invested in “one big project”. I defied him with a big “NO”! I didn’t know it was to be the so-called “Marriott”.”
Nagamootoo also said that Dr. Luncheon’s role, not only as Government’s spokesman but also as Secretary to the Cabinet which overlooked NICIL’s operations, should have been reason enough for him to resign in shame.
“We need a probe into all NICIL deals. We need to examine if and whether NICIL’s assets amounted $50 billion. There are so many questions here. The bleeding has to stop. Our government intends to stop this lawlessness.”
Luncheon, during his weekly post-Cabinet press briefings, noted that the financial closure of the hotel deal had been affected by legal actions and other delays.
Luncheon said that without NICIL’s intervention, it would not have been possible to advance the hotel to its completion stage.
He made it clear that NICIL, a Government-owned company that specializes in investments on behalf of the state, has mechanisms in place that it will be “reimbursed”.
Under the arrangements, Government had leased the Kingston lands -6.886 acres; up-fronted at least US$22M as its share of the project and was awaiting almost US$27M from a syndicated loan via Republic Bank Trinidad, and another US$8M from a Hong Kong duo for the equity shares. There are reports now that the costs could be much more.
Government set up a special company— Atlantic Hotel Inc. (AHI)— to handle the management of the hotel.
The seven-storey main structure will include an administration building containing offices, and a banquet hall as well as a separate entertainment complex, containing a specialty restaurant, nightclub and casino.
Winston Brassington, the head of NICIL and AHI, had said in 2013 an equity investor was secured. However, it was not until May last year that AHI and Republic Bank were able to release the name of the investor. The investors, who were identified as Victor How Chung Chan and Xu Han, are principals in the British Virgin Islands (BVI)-registered ACE Square Investments Ltd.
A few months ago, Brassington, who has been under fire for his role in a number of controversial deals, admitted that financing for the project was in jeopardy because of the court case filed by Opposition Member of Parliament, Desmond Trotman.
The court case sought to block the transfer and mortgaging, among other things, of those prime Kingston lands.
Brassington and Government have been largely silent on how the hotel was going up.
Built by Chinese contractor Shanghai Construction Group, the works have been criticized because of the very few jobs that were available to locals.
Recently, AHI said that it has hired almost 240 staffers.
Last minute minor works, like landscaping, are being done by the contractor with a main roadway, Battery Roadway being currently repaired in anticipation of the hotel’s opening.
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