“Marriott” name touted without franchise granted for Ogle hotel
…Govt sells prime GuySuCo lands for under $70M to TT firm
Over two acres of prime lands that were owned by the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) have been sold for less than $70 million to a Trinidad-based company that will be constructing a new AC Marriott Hotel in Guyana.
Since the announcement of US$75 million deal, there have been many questions raised about the project, details of which were unknown. However, at the sod-turning ceremony for the construction of the hotel at Plantation Ogle (past the Eugene F Correia International Airport), East Coast Demerara, on Thursday, officials sought to defend the project but were not able to offer clarity on pertinent aspects of the deal.
Privatisation Specialist (ag) at the National Industrial and Commercial Investment Limited (NICIL), Racheal Henry, told reporters that the GuySuCo lands were vested to NICIL in 2017. 2.61 acres were sold to Triniyuana Investment Inc last year at the cost of $26 million per acre. According to Henry, the land was valued by Government evaluators.
Meanwhile, Head of NICIL, Colvin Heath-London, told reporters that the lands were advertised in 2017 for investment opportunities. He, however, did not provide details about how many investors expressed interest and what process NICIL used to make its decision to go with Triniyuana Investment Inc.
However, Chief Executive Office of Triniyuana Investment Inc, John Aboud, said he did not know that the lands were for sale. He explained that his investment firm had submitted an expression of interest (EoI) to construct a hotel here last year and was pitched the location at Ogle.
The use of the GuySuCo lands for this infrastructure project comes on the heels of the incumbent APNU/AFC Administration promising displaced sugar workers leased lands for agricultural use since most were unable to find employment.
According to the Trinidadian businessman, discussions for the project with NICIL started in March 2019. However, he noted that the local company, Triniyuana Investment Inc, was not incorporated until July 2019 after they were guaranteed the realisation of the project.
“It made no sense forming the company when you had no business, so once we established the fact that there was a real opportunity of doing something, we decided to form the company,” Aboud noted.
He went on to say that they have already submitted all of their applications, including those for concessions from the Guyana Government and are now awaiting responses. Aboud said that they are looking to get import duty concessions on the equipment and raw materials needed for the construction as well as income tax concessions.
No franchise agreement
Responding to questions about building under the Marriott brand, Aboud further noted that the AC Marriott Hotel has a Letter of Intent (LoI) with Marriott International Inc and they are currently negotiating the financial terms.
“The LoI is signed off, it’s just a question of, before you actually sign the franchise agreement, how much commission you have to pay them, what are the royalty fees – those are the things we’re going through now with them,” the Triniyuana CEO said.
No geotechnical study
He explained that part of the problem of not finalising this as yet is because they are awaiting the geotechnical study, which is yet to be done, in order to understand and determine what kind of structure they will build.
With the necessary applications already submitted, Aboud related that once the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives a ‘go-ahead’, they will commence works to develop the land – land grading and filling – before actual infrastructural construction starts.
The Triniyuana Boss further posited that he is hoping to have Guyanese labourers work on the project since it would be cheaper than bringing in persons. However, in cases where they have to bring in specialists, they will be working along with Guyanese to build capacity here.
Of recent, the incumbent coalition administration has been heavily criticised, particularly by the Opposition People’s Progressive Party/Civic, for undertaking major projects while being an illegal government following the December 2018 passage of a No-Confidence Motion against it.
Asked about doing business here in the current political situation, Aboud contended that he was not interested in Guyana’s politics but the development opportunities here stemming from the country’s oil and gas sector.
It was noted that the construction of the US$75 million AC Marriott Hotel is just part of Triniyuana’s development plans here and that there will be another phase afterwards.
Asked about those future plans, Aboud told Guyana Times that, “Phase Two is a continuation of the development in Phase One, a little bit more elaborate. But I don’t want to let the cat out the bag as yet”.
No financial role
Meanwhile, the NICIL Head told reporters that they are satisfied with their due diligence that an AC Marriott Hotel will be constructed by the company. Heath-London further pointed out that while the State has no financial role in this project, there are other projects lined up in which the Guyana Government will seek to have a stake in.
In fact, it was announced that next week, a similar exercise will be held for another hotel project at the same Plantation Ogle location.
The construction of the AC Marriott Hotel comes against the backdrop of incessant criticisms by the incumbent APNU and AFC while in Opposition of the existing Guyana Marriott Hotel, which was constructed by the previous PPP Administration.
APNU/AFC blocked Marriott
While in Opposition during the 10th Parliament, the APNU and AFC had individually criticised the construction of the Marriott Hotel and other major projects undertaken by the then People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Administration.
They had conducted picketing exercises in front of the hotel when construction started in 2011 and also when it was being opened in 2015.
In fact, during the 2015 elections campaign, the coalition party had talked about selling off the multi-million-dollar tourism flagship project as well as making it into a hospital facility.
Having abandoning those plans, the APNU/AFC had recently come under criticism for attempting to block the realisation a casino centre at the hotel.
The US$58 million Guyana Marriott Hotel was completed in 2015 and was accepted as a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient edifice, complete with hotel, casino and entertainment complex.
APNU and AFC had threatened to charge the then Chairman of NICIL Winston Brassington and Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh for their role in securing lands in Kingston for NICIL’s subsidiary AHI to construct the hotel. The spotlight will now fall on the current NICIL Head for securing lands for a private developer without funds being transferred into the Consolidated Fund.
In fact, Marriott’s financing structure had depended on a casino and entertainment centre to make enough money to repay up to US$30 million in debts to the banks and other creditors. Currently, the Kingston Marriott is generating a profit and is consistently fully booked.