Well, Mr Brassington has done it again. Like he did to me over the Berbice River Bridge Company, he wanted me to hold back a column while he committed NIS money to the Berbice Bridge. On this occasion he needed a weekend to respond to my questions on his Marriott. Well it turned out that ten days were not enough to provide answers to what I thought were straightforward questions. Maybe he was too busy.
I am sorry if I piqued readers’ interest or led them to believe that the public will receive first hand, honest-to-goodness truth to questions we are all dying to have answered. I apologise to you all for leaving you without any answers to a string of questions which I have put to Mr Brassington. It was his undertaking that made me not divulge the questions last week.
But if there does come a time when Guyanese officials are made accountable for their abuse of office, when they can no longer make promises which they have no intention of honouring and when they will have to deal with public money in a lawful and transparent manner, Winston Brassington will surely be listed among the pantheon. For him, the indictment will be long and damning: complicity and execution of NICIL’s illegalities; the Amaila Road contract to ‘Fip’ Motilall; the privatisation of the Sanata Complex and the illegal concessions to Queens Atlantic Investment Inc; his hinterland road-building exercises with GGMC billions; his shenanigans with fund-raising for the Berbice River Bridge Company Inc; and now the Atlantic Hotel Inc of which he remains the sole director, Chairman and CEO.
Expertise or conviction?
I had understood from someone in the engineering fraternity that there were concerns including a criminal conviction of one of the persons reportedly involved in the supervision of the construction of the hotel. So I asked for the name, expertise and experience of the firm or individuals looking after AHI’s interest in the construction of the building; if it was an individual, the person’s qualifications and experience in projects of this magnitude; whether the position was advertised and who was responsible for the selection; who the person reports to and whether that person was provided with all the documentation, specifications and drawings for the foundation, plumbing, electrical, concrete pours, curing period for different aspects of the concrete work, steel size and resistance capacity, etc; and I asked about the number of non-compliance reports submitted to date by AHI’s representative.
On the contractual deals with Marriott International I sought from Mr Brassington information on the precise role of Marriott International in the design and construction stages of the contract; the basis and the amounts payable and paid to Marriott for the two phases; whether withholding taxes were deducted from those payments and remitted to the Guyana Revenue Authority; and whether the contract for the management of the hotel has been signed and sealed. I also subsequently asked for copies of the contracts with the Marriott.
The mysterious private sector partner
The project has always been promoted as a public-private sector partnership with the Grenada- based Zublin identified as the/a partner. Of course, the term private-public sector partnership can mean whatever one wants it to mean. To clarify the point and satisfy concerns expressed by cynics that Zublin was never seriously involved and was merely a red herring, I asked Mr Brassington whether the discussions/negotiations with Zublin had been concluded and for him to confirm the percentage of the shareholding Zublin would take and the price for each share issued.
After all the hotel would be worth much more than the actual amounts paid to the contractor. If we divert for a moment and look at the financial statements of Atlantic Hotel Inc as at December 31, 2011 we see the flawed accounts signed by Mr Brassington and given a clean audit opinion by the Audit Office. Only the Guyana dollar equivalent of the payment to the contractor has been recorded in the accounts. It is a matter of public knowledge that NICIL has spent not inconsiderable sums in infrastructural works; it must also have paid Marriott several millions for services provided while it is reported that a huge sum has already been paid to the engineers looking after the country’s interest. None of these costs are reflected in the books of AHI and must have been paid by NICIL, which engages in so many disparate activities that it can be confident that the Audit Office would be unable or uninterested in identifying those costs which are properly chargeable to the hotel company.
And surely those concessions which Mr Brassington has negotiated from Go-Invest have a huge value which must be factored in any price. The selling price of the shares in the hotel should therefore exceed the actual cost giving rise to a huge profit. Of course, Director Brassington will argue, quite incorrectly, that the profit belongs to the company and can only be distributed by way of dividends.
To return to the identity of the buyer which Dr Luncheon has indicated has already been agreed, I asked Mr Brassington about the alternative arrangements that AHI/NICIL have put in place in case Zublin is no longer interested. Some people think that the name Atlantic is more than a coincidence since there is another beneficiary of state largesse with Atlantic in its name. Or is it a ‘brother’, peeved that he was forced out of the business the first time around?
The public will recall that Mr Brassington had said that the contractor SCG International (Trinidad and Tobago) Limited (SCG) had insisted on the exclusion of Guyanese from its labour force, apparently because we are not up to their standard. But my failure to see such a clause and my prior experience with Mr Brassington compelled me to ask him a direct question: where in the contract does it state that the labour force is Chinese only? To put it politely, he did not tell the truth.
Readers will recall that I reported in an earlier column that an official search I had carried out at the Companies Registry came up with the astounding fact that SCG was not legally permitted to carry on business in Guyana. So I asked Mr Brassington whether he or his legal secretary had checked to see whether SCG is incorporated or registered in Guyana before entering into a multi-billion dollar contract with them. It was almost laughable that following the column frantic but improper efforts were made to register the company with the Registrar.
At large is whether the company has registered with and is complying with the income tax and NIS laws of Guyana. The laws of Guyana treat such omissions as extremely serious and one can be sure that the GRA could step in with heavy boots when it finds out. That is surely how SCG should have been treated.
One of the requirements for registration with both these bodies is that the company be registered or incorporated in Guyana. Since it has not been registered, it is a fair assumption that the previous suggestion that the company is excluded, or has excluded itself from the tax and NIS laws of Guyana is more than justified.
Readers will recall that SCG, in bringing down their tender price from US$65 million to US$51 million, had indicated that it would exclude a number of works and the critical certification of which the government boasts. I have asked for the estimated cost of the several other elements of the project which SCG excluded, whether funding for those works and the balance of the contract price had been sourced.
Mr Brassington has chosen to ignore direct questions from a taxpayer and citizen of this country. He is shielded by equally opaque politicians who could not be bothered about answering questions from anyone. Democracy and accountability have been turned on their heads, or dumped into the Atlantic next to the hotel.
There is nothing more that civil society can do. All the questions have been asked while any answers have been provided by the media itself. It is the new democracy, the new dispensation. There is no room for questions.
To summarise, the government has embarked on the conception, construction and financing of a $10 billion hotel built with taxpayers money but from which taxpayers labour was explicitly excluded in a collusion between the Government of Guyana and the Chinese construction company. The hotel will be sold to God knows who at a price which has not been determined. The hotel comes with concessions extending in some cases to twenty years – itself historic.
Meanwhile we claim that we cannot afford to increase the subvention to the University of Guyana, equip our regional hospitals and health centres, pay better pensions or solve the problems at the NIS.
It is a new model of development.