Public Monies on Marriot Hotel Be Halted Until Approval by the National Assembly3911 17 Dec, 2012
Mr. Nandlall: Thank you very much, Sir. I rise to make my few contributions to this motion which is being discussed tonight. I wish to commend my colleagues on this side who spoke before me – the Hon. Irfaan Alli, the Hon. Dr. Ashni Singh, the Hon. Mr. Lumumba – who with commendable lucidity and clarity have adumbrated all of the issues which are relevant to this debate.
If I am to categorise and classify the arguments emanating from the Opposition one finds a difference in the arguments coming from the APNU and the Alliance For Change. The Alliance For Change predicated their discussion on or Mr. Ramjattan predicated his arguments on issues of transparency and the process in which we engaged in relation to the ‘Marriott Project’ and that seemed to be the thrust of his arguments in support of the motion. The APNU, on the other hand concentrated heavily on the viability of the project and spoke less to the motion itself.
Coming back to Mr. Ramjattan’s argument and the motion’s express language, Mr. Ramjattan has raised several issues regarding unconstitutionality, illegality and these charges he has placed squarely upon the shoulders of the Government and NICIL. Now I could understand the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge. He is an economist and has a financial background. Mr. Ramjattan is a lawyer of many years standing and his motion complains principally about act of unconstitutionality and acts of illegality being perpetrated by the state. It begs the question: why is it that Mr. Ramjattan has chosen to come to this Parliament to bring a motion rather than challenge these manifest illegalities as palpable unconstitutionalities about which he speaks in the court? There must be a reason why a lawyer does not want to go to court to challenge an illegality and he comes here to bring to bring a resolution when we have established very clearly, Sir, that resolutions have no binding force on the Government’s policy and I will cite again the authority which I have cited to the Assembly. It says in the text Private Members’ Business, a Practical Guide – a book emanating out of the House of Commons in Canada:
“In deciding between a bill and a motion the first difference to keep in mind is their effect since in agreeing to a motion expressing a resolution the House is only stating an opinion. The Government will not be bound to adopt a specific policy or course of action.”
It is clear that the Government is not bound as a matter of policy to give effect to a resolution emanating from a motion and Mr. Ramjattan knows this. Why has he chosen this method? That is what gave credence to my friend’s argument and the poster that my friend holds up in support of his argument. This is why; it has a political… He speaks about incest and he speaks about deformity which flows from the incest and he is championing the cause of a person laying in the bed of his own political party. You cannot get more incestuous than that and that is where the deformity will come from and that is the point that we are making emphatically on this side.
Going back to the court, my learned friend, Mr. Burch-Smith, was here to listen to this debate but he could not stay. Mr. Burch-Smith is involved in a matter, and there are several matters, in which NICIL’s disposition, alienation and deal with properties have been the subject of litigation in the courts. Recently, Mr. Ramjattan must be aware, a ruling emanated from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in a case filed by Toolsie Persaud Limited concerning the land at Plantation Turkeyen. After the ruling of the CCJ and not being satisfied with that ruling, Mr. Toolsie Persaud re-launched litigation in the court and part of those litigations consisted of a direct challenge of how that plot of land was alienated by NICIL to a company in Trinidad called Multi Cinemas Limited. That was a subject of a direct challenge in the court filed by learned Senior Counsel Mr. Robin Stoby. When I produced the amendments and the notification in the gazette, which Dr. Ashni Singh made reference to in his presentation; Mr. Stoby swiftly withdrew his challenge. There is a written ruling by the Hon. Chief Justice legitimising and giving his stamp of approval of NICIL’s power to alienate property in the manner in which NICIL has done in relation to this Kingston property.
All this illegality that my friend is speaking about, the reason why he cannot go and file proceedings to challenge the illegality about which he speaks about is it will not see the light of day in the court. The application will be rejected. There is more than one written judgment to that effect. [Mr. Nagamootoo: So what, you control the court.]
All I am doing as a lawyer, as the Attorney General, is citing extant ruling of our court which guides this Parliament, guides practicing lawyers and the citizens of this country and there is an utterance on the other side that I am controlling the court.
The argument has been advanced that Guyana is not ready for this type of investment. The arguments advanced is that we have a dirty city; that we do not have the business atmosphere and environment that will conduce to this magnitude of investment in the hotel industry; that there is a mudflat and a “cardboard city” adjacent to where the hotel’s proposed site is. I have traveled across the Caribbean and I know that my learned friend, Mr. Harmon, has as well. I just came back from Panama City where I saw some of the most spectacular buildings located in this part of the hemisphere situated in that city and immediately before one enters Panama City one drives through the worst slum areas I have ever seen.
Outside of Le Meridian Pegasus in Kingston, Jamaica… In fact, if one stands in an elevated position in Le Meridian Pegasus, Kingston, Jamaica, and one looks out sees a shanty town from Old Kingston blocked off from New Kingston by cardboard and there are hundreds of cardboard houses.
When one goes to Trinidad one sees that there is a village in Sande Grande in an oil-rich Caribbean country in the year 2012 that there is no electricity.
In all of these countries one finds hotels of the stature and caliber of the Marriott. Why? It is because these are the institutions; these are the economic driving forces that drive economic activity in a country to eventually alleviate instances and incidents of poverty. The Government is being faulted for partnership or partnering with the private sector in this investment but right across the ocean, just an hour “airtime” flight from here the Trinidad and Tobago Government constructed a spectacular over 50-story building that houses the Hyatt Hotel. It is a Ministry of House project; so much so that in the lobby of the Hotel is a photograph of the Hon. Minister of Housing of Trinidad and Tobago, Dr. Roodal Moonilal. The Trinidadian Government rented that facility to Hyatt international on very flexible and generous and incentive based terms and conditions. Why?
My friend speaks about Marriott in particular and my colleague, the Hon. Member Mr. Manzoor Nadir, told me that when he was Minister of Tourism he met with the Vice President of Marriott in South America and Latin America and they have a total of 54 hotels spanning this part of the globe with over US $800 million of investment in this region. We should be proud that Marriott has identified us as a viable place to invest.
It is a partnership among Marriott, the private sector and the public sector. The other argument that my colleague and learned friend Mr. Harmon advanced is that the hotel is too close to ocean and global warming will render the hotel under threat, but the reality is that hotels throughout the Caribbean are largely located on the edges of beaches, on the edges of the Caribbean Sea. That is where the hotels are located. In Barbados, in Trinidad, in Antigua, in St. Lucia, in Rio De Janeiro in Brazil they all line the beaches. Most of these countries are rocks in the ocean. They are more susceptible to global warming than we are. In any event a hotel of the standing and multinational company like Marriott that has so many experts at their disposal have commissioned a feasibility study. The people did not come here and arbitrarily and whimsically decide that they will establish a hotel here…
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, there is a din. Let us complete this debate.
Mr. Nandlall: …and invest in Guyana. They did so based upon a feasibility study. They must have done an actuarial survey of their investment to look at the risks to which they will expose themselves and look at the viability of the project. These are not people who are untrained and inexperienced in the hotel industry. These people have hotels have hotels right across the globe so we have to credit them with some kind of acumen and business initiative and they have come here and they have looked at the traffic at the airport, they have looked at the market and they have decided that Guyana is attractive enough and a viable market to invest in a resort-style Marriott Hotel, not a Marriott Courtyard.
Also my friends have plucked statistics out of the air and would like us to believe that hotel occupancy rates are below 40%, one said, below 50% another one said, and my colleague Dr. Ashni Singh pointed to the fact that Pegasus, itself, the hotel that claims to suffer some great injury as a result of this proposed competition, is expanding its facilities and improving its facilities and upgrading its facilities to the tune of US $9 million. That is the information published in the press. The question is, why? If that company is enjoying merely a 40% occupancy rate why is he expending and investing US $9 million? It does not make sense. Many of my colleagues in this House know of my association with a hotel in this city and before I came to this Assembly I enquired – that is an 86-room hotel establishment – of the level of occupancy and out of 86 rooms only two are available. The point I want to make… I invite you, any one of you, to call tomorrow or tonight and enquire. The statistics which are being fed to us are misleading and are concocted to serve the argument of my friends.
The motion speaks to the depositing of moneys into the Consolidated Fund and it speaks to the lack of transparency which is alleged afflicts the operation of NICIL but we have said ad nauseam in this House that Dr. Ashni Singh explained in great length the origin of NICIL, the nature of the company and the reason why it was established. Cde. Irfaan Alli explained about the wide mandate of the Articles of Association that allows it to invest and engage in business of great amplitude. That seemed not to have satisfied my friends but the truth of the matter in terms of accountability and transparency is: We have stated in this House that we have one privatization policy; the execution unit of it is NICIL. It was the subject of a white paper which we tabled in this National Assembly when my two friends were on this side of the House and we have to this date faithfully followed the principles adumbrated in that white paper that we will dispose of property through a publically tendered and advertised process; that it would be open to bids and properties are going to be sold at market value. In 2010, NICIL released a document which was circulated in this National Assembly in which NICIL detailed every single transaction in which it was engaged in beginning from 1993 to 2010. My friends did not read that. That was disclosed since 2010 or 2009; long before any issue of transparency came up.
The Auditor General audits the accounts of NICIL annually and those accounts are prepared and put as part of the Auditor General’s Report and they are handed over directly to this National Assembly. My friend, the Hon. Mr. Greenidge, chairs that Committee – the Public Accounts Committee. That Committee has enhanced power under the Constitution to look at the Auditor General’s Report and to summon NICIL and to summon any agency that they have a problem with and ask whatever question they want to ask and to subpoena any document that they want to subpoena. I do not understand on what basis we still hear this cry about lack of transparency and secrecy.
We conceded in June of this year when the motion was put in front of this House and debated by the Hon. Member Mr. Greenidge that all of the financial years of audited financial accounts of NICIL, the umbrella company and its various components, we did not have all ready and we gave an undertaking then that we will produce it before the end of the year 2012 and they are all here. They are all here. Where is the lack of transparency? I do not understand what else we need to do as a Government. The Minister of Finance said the Mr. Ramjattan and the Alliance For Change and APNU were invited to a close-door session at Office of the President (OP) to look at all of the documents and a reason was given why the investors wanted some degree of confidentiality in terms of their investments and that is not an unreasonable demand. That is not an unreasonable demand.
I say that the allegations that are being peddled and repeated ad nauseam about lack of transparency of the operations at NICIL is one that is founded in fiction and being manipulated and peddled for political reasons and expediency.
Recall that there were televised debates dealing with one of the topics, specifically NICIL. We invited the Alliance For Change and A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) too. APNU took a principled decision earlier that it would not have come, but the Alliance For Change had kept coming. In relation to the NICIL’s debate, it brought no other than one of its other bedfellows, Mr. Christopher Ram. He attended the interview and I said to him repeatedly during that televised live programme to let him identify on national television - the cameras were rolling live - a single transaction that he can establish that there was corruption; let him identify a single transaction that he believed was tainted with financial or other irregularity. I asked him that question over six times in one hour and he abysmally failed to identify a single transaction. Sir, what else can we do?
All we are hearing are these allegations, wild, unsubstantiated claims being made, and this anti-development dogma and ideologies being perpetrated and peddled by leaders of this country without any empirical data, without any evidence, to support these contentions. Your Honour, you had the cause to tell my friend that he was speaking about... What is striking is that when my friends began this political tirade, they become very loose. Tonight we witnessed one Member being so loose that he started to allege that a particular hotel was built to do money laundering and to wash drug money and Your Honour had to correctly pull him up. I see that he has imposed an exile on himself. He is not here anymore.
Sir, I just wish that the people of this country must see these political antics that are manifesting themselves in motions and television programmes, and so on. As political antics, they are anti-governmental, anti-developmental and all designed to perpetuate this myth that there is a lack of transparency. NICIL has become their favourite flogging horse when the Constitution clearly allows for NICIL to keep its moneys, to invest as it sees fit and to deposit excesses in the Consolidated Fund. Article 216 states that very clearly. If my friends believe that the Government is violating article 216, there is the forum of the court to go to. They do not want to go to the court. They do not want to engage in any one-on-one debate on television. They want to keep these side freak shows, these antics, these circuses, going to score political points. I, therefore, reject this motion out of hand.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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