Home Letters Something is rotten – the new Marriot smells from here to Timbuktu
Elections are just about seventeen days away. The APNU/AFC is busy with transactions they had no time for in the last almost five years and for which no caretaker Government has the right to conduct, even if it’s always better late than never. Among these questionable transactions is giving away valuable land. I was shocked to see them turning the sod at Ogle for a new Marriot Hotel with a Trinidadian who has registered a company in Guyana called Triniyuana. The CEO of the company insisted he is not a politician and does not care which party wins the upcoming elections. These elections are just a few days away. Why, therefore, could this not wait until after the elections, no matter which party wins? Something is rotten with this deal and it smells from here to Timbuktu.
It did not escape me that no Marriot representative was present and the Trinidadian CEO of the company admitted he is yet to sign an agreement with Marriot. I am not opposed to a new Marriot at that location. In fact, I belong to the PPP whose manifesto and whose Presidential Candidate have vocalised the PPP’s vision and plan for several more Marriot-like hotels in Guyana. But there are serious questions which the Granger-led APNU/AFC must answer. All Guyanese, no matter which party he or she might support, must want to see the interests of our country and people protected. The investors in this new project, including Republic Bank, if the reports are correct, must also want these concerns addressed.
First, the following context is important. Since 2015 and particularly after the PSA with Exxon was signed in 2016, the price for land in certain parts of the country has skyrocketed. In certain parts of Georgetown, the price for prime land has tripled and quadrupled. Thus, when looking at the price for prime land today, it is not an easy comparison with prices for prime land before 2016.
One area of interest is land in the Ogle area. Land around the airport became more valuable ever since the PPP initiated a vision to expand and modernise the Ogle Airstrip into a fully-fledged international municipal airport. Those lands are now even more valuable because the dream of Ogle as an international municipal airport has become reality and the airport is every day expanding and improving. But the value of land around the Ogle airport also significantly increased in value after Exxon announced it is building an international-standard headquarters behind the Ogle Airport. There is the concern of what Exxon paid for the land on which it is building its headquarters, but that is another matter.
Having established the context, Guyanese must be concerned with what is reported to be the price of the land Triniyuana Investments Inc paid. The news reports state that the company acquired formerly GuySuCo land, 2.61 acres for $52 million. That would mean that the cost is about $20 million per acre. Surely this is selling prime land for “peanuts”.
The MovieTowne land in Turkeyen which was sold long before oil and long before the area had the value it now has was sold at about $25 million per acre. There is no way that the GuySuCo land at Ogle is worth just $20 million per acre. This is a giveaway price. Therefore, Guyanese are asking for the valuation of the land, who did it, when it was done.
It has not escaped inquiring minds that two senior officials of the PPP Government were charged for selling the MovieTowne land at about $20 million per acre, much more than they were getting in an open tender. Would, therefore, someone be charged for selling valuable, prime property at Ogle at a price drastically below market value? Or is it that the land was deliberately sold below market rate on the justification that it is for a valuable investment that will bring jobs and fulfil a need for Guyana? I personally do not have a problem with this reasoning. But this reasoning was rejected by the very people responsible for this transaction and, therefore, this cannot be their motivation. Unless someone provides clarification, this is a rotten deal, smelling all the way from here to Timbuktu.
According to NICIL officials, negotiation for selling the land started in March and the assumption is made it had to be March 2019. Was there a valuation? Was there a public advertisement offering the land for sale? Who tendered to procure the land and what prices were offered? Why was Triniyuana selected as the purchaser of this land? The CEO admitted he had no idea the land was for sale.
He was not involved in any tendering for the land. He admitted that he pitched a proposal for a Marriot and he was directed to this site. His company was not registered until July, several months after the March date when NICIL said the land sale was being negotiated. These are serious questions and they must be answered with evidence provided.
But my concerns go beyond the price and the process. This is supposed to be a 150-room Marriot Hotel on a 2.61-acre of land, thus, this will be a high-rise building in front of the Ogle International Airport. I recall this same land was once identified and surveyed for a housing scheme. In fact, house lots on this land were allocated and distributed. Those house lots had to be repossessed because it was determined that those proposed homes would be in the flight path of the planes from the Ogle International Airport. What has changed since that time that it is now safe to build a high-rise hotel in those same lands?
Just across the road from the proposed site, there was a proposal to construct the new headquarters for the Civil Aviation Authority. The then President Donald Ramotar turned the sod for that building. But the plan was abruptly terminated because it was determined that the CAA building would constitute a danger for the planes arriving and departing the Ogle International Airport. Maybe all of these issues have been resolved, but why the secret? We need to know.
Dr Leslie Ramsammy