Last Thursday, Dr Roger Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat was asked for further details about the award of the multi-billion contract to Synergy Holdings for the construction of a road to the Amaila Falls. Dr Luncheon who placed the contract “within the provisions of the Procurement Act,” said that the persons who were raising doubts about Synergy and its ability to implement the project, were by extension raising doubts about the procurement process, and accused them of being part of a sinister agenda. It was also said that the award was based on the fact that Synergy had submitted the lowest tender.
The facts show that it is Dr Luncheon who is being sinister – and less than forthcoming – in attempting to mislead the public, which is asked to pay more than G$3 billion to build a road by a company that has zero experience in such a project. Dr Luncheon must know that National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) is a state-owned private company that does not fall under the Procurement Act; that Synergy did not meet any of the pre-qualification criteria for the contract and its tender should therefore have failed at the first hurdle; and that the project’s Request for Proposal states unambiguously that there was no obligation to accept the lowest proposal. Yet, Synergy is now foisted on the nation as the only road to shining light, compliments of NICIL, chaired by Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh, with a supporting cast of other ministers and political appointees of the President.
As a private company, NICIL is a vehicle of convenience to award the road-building contract as a precursor to giving a preferred company an even more lucrative contract – the construction of a hydropower plant valued at hundreds of millions of US dollars. Dr Luncheon’s government pretends to be blissfully unaware that the economics of the Amaila project do not add up, and may end up like the decision to spend more than US$200 million on the Skeldon Sugar Modernisation Plant, financed by loans on which GuySuCo has defaulted, requiring a government bailout.
Moreover, Dr Luncheon did not tell the nation about the source of this initial US$15 million. The 2010 Budget anticipated a G$6 billion from the Norwegians under the MOU. That money has not arrived, and indeed many key conditions of the MOU for its receipt are yet to be met by Guyana. Ironically, the four million square metres of tree-clearing operation required under the Synergy contract is likely to cost some US$14 million of penalty under the very MOU, reducing by approximately 48% the G$6 billion budgeted to be received from Norway this year.
The budget already has a $28.6 billion deficit which will increase as more money is put into GuySuCo to keep it afloat, and political spending accelerates in preparation for the 2011 elections. Of course, it is the hapless Guyanese taxpayer who is saddled ultimately with the related implications of, and responsibilities for, deficits brought about by government’s caprice.
Taking a different tack, there is also the possibility that this project is being financed from the NICIL fund created out of moneys diverted from privatisation proceeds and huge sums from various public entities. By these unlawful and unconstitutional means Parliament and the Consolidated Fund are bypassed in favour of NICIL, a company which for several years has not been filing its annual tax returns, or having its accounts prepared and audited in accordance with the law.
All in all, the choice of NICIL to do this piece of midwifery is not surprising. It has been at the centre of many highly questionable transactions involving this government, including: 1) the RUSAL bauxite give-away; 2) spending for the phantom hotel; 3) the NIS investment in the Berbice Bridge Company; and 4) facilitating, most egregiously, the Ramroop’s Queens Atlantic Investment Inc deal which included unlawful tax concessions.
This Synergy deal continues a pattern, and the parliamentary opposition and the people of Guyana should demand an enquiry into this outrage, potentially the largest single financial transaction ever undertaken in Guyana. This must be stopped.