Jun 23, 2022 Letters
All things being equal, it appears that there is little or no ‘fussing and fighting’ between government and the parliamentary opposition in respect to government’s interior and coast-land road expansion programme.
Roads are the arteries through which the pulse of a country’s economy can be felt. They link producers to markets, workers to jobs, students to schools, pensioners to post offices the sick to hospitals and the dead to the cemeteries, crematoria or cremation sites.
Roads are vital to any country’s development agenda. They contribute significantly to the geographic re-balancing of the economy, reducing economic inequalities generally and between town and country specifically. In this regard, Guyana is no exception.
If there are two particular roads that should reflect unity of purpose, at least conceptually, between the Government of Guyana and the Parliamentary Opposition, notwithstanding their disagreements on governance issues, they would be the road that was once known as the ‘Del Conte Road’ and the recently inaugurated Linden to Mabura to Lethem Road.
Soon after the PPP’s election victory in August 1961, the newly elected Cheddi Jagan government successfully secured assistance in the form of ‘Contractor Finance.’
Tenders were invited to construct a 30-mile long road on the right bank of the Essequibo River from Parika to Makouria. The road was to be linked by a ferry crossing to Bartica.
According to the Parliamentary Debates Official Report of the 5th Sitting of the Senate
December 7, 1961, Mr. HJM Hubbard who at the time, was Minister of Trade and Industry moved a motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders to allow the Senate to proceed with the First and Second Reading of a Bill:
‘LOAN (CONSORCIO EMPRESAS GRUPO DEL CONTE) BILL
A Bill entitled: An Ordinance to authorise the Governor to issue Bonds in connection with the construction and financing of the Parika-Bartica road.’
Proceeding with the second reading of the Bill, Mr. Hubbard stated, “This is to me a very proud day, because it has fallen to my lot to initiate in this Senate a measure which will commence work on the fulfill¬ment of a dream which Guianese have cherished since the beginning of time. It is my proud duty to move the Second Reading of a Bill, which provides for financial arrangements to allow a com¬mencement to be made on the exten¬sion of our road facilities. The Government is anxious that action should be taken to finalise the transaction to enable a start to be made on the construction of the Parika-Bartica road which will be financed as a result of this Bill.”
Minister Hubbard explained: “When the decision was taken that this road should be built, tenders were invited with a view to having the con¬tractors participate in the financing of the operation. Bids were received and, having regard to cost, competence and the availability of contractor’s finance, government decided to award the contract to Consorcio Empressas Groupo Del Conte.
Mr. Hubbard continued: “The road which is to be built will link Parika with Bartica because the road will run from Parika to a point opposite Bartica, and there, a ferry built in our own shipyard in British Guiana will carry the passengers across and the quantities which will justify expensive and extensive mining operations. The great hinterland will lie at their feet after a journey which is not too difficult or too long”.
Continuing his presentation, Mr. Hubbard said, “Imagination is needed to see that our future lies in the interior and is, therefore, welcome. I would, however, like to point out that though the aim of this Bill is commendable government needs to be extremely careful in utilising a foreign concern.
Mr. Hubbard further explained; “Consorcio Empresas Grupo Del Conte is a Concern which has had experience in road building in Peru, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic and, so far as technical advice available to the Government is concerned, we are advised that they are competent to do the job. But also they have agreed that payment for the work should extend for a period of 10 years and that in satis¬faction of the work they will accept bonds issued by the Government of British Guiana and bearing interest at the rate of 4 percent. This arrangement therefore arises out of our necessity to find finance in a form which is acceptable to us and the financier. The Bill, which it is my privilege to move, seeks to authorise the transaction and to provide that the interest earned should be free of income tax as is customary with loans which we float nowadays.”
The Bill was passed in the Senate without any amendments.
On December 8, 1961, the then British Governor, Sir Ralph Grey assented to Ordinance No. 42 of 1961 authorising the issuing of bonds in connection with the contracting and financing of the Parika to Bartica Road in favour of Consorcio Empressas Groupo Del Conte.
At first, The United Force sought to throw cold water on the project by referring to the political situation in Venezuela, issues related to financing, due diligence and the need for a public debate on the project. When all that failed, they sought to persuade the Del Conte Group not to finance any project under the Jagan government.
Three months later, in February 1962, opposition political parties including the PNC led by Forbes Burnham, the UF led by Peter D’Aguiar and the TUC mounted street demonstrations against the budget introduced by Dr. CR Jacobs PPP Finance Minister. By February 16, looting and destruction by fire of business places erupted in downtown Georgetown. The Del Conte Road project was torpedoed following the elections in 1964 that brought the PNC/UF coalition to office.
Forty-nine years later, at a flag raising ceremony held at the National Park in May 2013, former President Donald Ramotar announced: “We are keenly examining the possibility of reopening the Del Conte trail via a road link between Parika and communities close to Bartica.”
He went on to say, “When constructed, the road has the possibility of opening up thousands of acres of new lands for agricultural cultivation thereby increasing food production and securing greater economic opportunities for farmers, while providing a much needed road link to areas formerly only accessible by river.” (G/C 30.5.2013)
In its 2020 Election Manifesto under the theme ‘Infrastructure Boom – Building For The Future, the PPP/C declared, ‘The PPP/C government will initiate work on several transformative infrastructural projects that will include the Parika to Rockstone Del Conte Road and link to Bartica.’
In his address at the 56th Independence Day rally at Anna Regina on the Essequibo Coast President Ali declared: “… understanding the need to access new areas of growth and to open up new lands for new opportunities, we have commenced work on surveys and clearing the alignment for Timehri – Sand Hill, Bartica road links [and] the Parika – Goshen roadway …”
Two weeks after, government announced it was negotiating a US$100M loan through the IDB’s ‘Programme to Support Climate Resilience Infrastructure Development’ to upgrade the East Bank Demerara (EBD) road – between Grove and Timehri. (K/N9.6.22)
This should be a no brainer, since International Financial Institutions (IFI’s) are known to lend more for roads than education, health social services and public security combined. And while roads bring economic and social benefits, they also bring social costs such as deforestation, air pollution, noise, residential displacement, accidents due to speeding and additional police presence.
On May 21, 2022, PPP/C Government officials along with the British High Commissioner turned the sod for the Linden to Mabura Road which, according to S/N; ‘…will lead to a fully paved highway all the way to Lethem and open up massive business opportunities with Brazil. The project is the first link of the highway between Linden and Lethem and is the first segment of the approximately 450 kilometres thoroughfare.’ (S/N 22.5.22)
The K/N (22.5.22) for its part, described the Linden to Mabura Road as; ‘…the Caribbean Development Bank’s (CDB) single largest project to date’ that it; ‘marks its largest geographic footprint.’ and will ‘bolster trade and commerce to unlock the vast opportunities in linking Guyana with Brazil.’
Funding for the project is of great interest. Of a total cost of US$190m, the CDB will contribute US$112 million as a loan, a £50 grant (US$66m) will be provided by the UK while the GOG will provide US$12M, most likely as counterpart funds.
The PPP/C in its election manifestos (EM) has been consistent in pushing for the Linden-Lethem Road i.e.; ‘For the economic development of the southern parts of the country and create opportunities for trade with neighbouring regions of Brazil’ (1997 EM); ‘Improving the road to Brazil to deepen regional integration and improve access to Guyana’s interior’ (2006 EM); ‘To further enhance continental opportunities with our neighbours making Guyana a more attractive destination for investors seeking to penetrate the continental market’ (20011 EM); And, ‘To intensify cooperation with Brazil to ensure a paved Linden-Lethem Road is completed to serve as a critical artery to many hinterland communities and mining areas while providing linkages between the two countries’ (2015 EM).
Guyana now stands on the edge of a great tomorrow consistent with an appropriately designed Road Investment Strategy and its long-term vision for Guyana’s roadways. In this respect, the Ali administration appears to be doing things differently from the haphazard methods of those who preceded them in the 2015-2020 period.
Clement J. Rohee
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