Public Monies on Marriot Hotel Be Halted Until Approval by the National Assembly2189 17 Dec, 2012
Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: Mr. Speaker, I rise to the challenge thrown out by the Hon. Minister. I want to give the Minister the assurance that, on this side of the House, there is no division. Now back to the debate. We have had a long of histrionics; we have had a lot of people talking about what the others were saying and all these things. However, I want to get this debate back to something that the Guyanese people can understand what we are talking about here. Let us bring it back there.
I rise to support the motion filed here by the Hon. Member, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan. In looking at the motion, I see an effort to make the Nation Assembly a more meaningful place in the Governance of this country. This is what I see in the motion. It is our view that part of the struggle to make the executive arm of Government more accountable for its management of the resources of this country; this is what this motion is all about.
We have been regaled by speakers on the Government side of the transformational nature of this Marriott Project. But what is it transforming? Is it the hospitality industry? Is it the tourism product that we are trying to transform? [Mr. Ali: What do you think?] I will tell you what I think.
We have been asked to view this major infrastructural investment as part of a development continuum, which includes our links, the Cheddie Jagan Airport International expansion, the Amalia Falls expansion and now this Marriott expansion. This is what we have been asked to do to make that linkage – fibre optic cable, deep water harbour, yes all of that... [Interruption] [Mr. Ali: Mr. Harmon, it is a complete overhaul.] I will like that, you speak for yourself. All of these are investments using the people’s money for projects which are meant or should be meant for the greater good of all Guyanese, this is what this is intended to be. But let us see what it is that we are asked to deal with here today.
We support, over here, projects which are for the greater good of all Guyanese. I want to put that on record. What we cannot support is the utilisation of people’s money - the Guyanese people money, on projects which are for the benefit of a few; that is what we cannot support. When we examine the operation of this Marriott brand; let us look at it in the Caribbean. My friend, the Hon. Minister spoke about the Marriott brand across the region and across the world, but let me examine the Marriott brand in this region.
Let us first of all look at the Marriott brand in Suriname. Do you know what they have there? They have a Marriott Courtyard. [Interruption] Do you know what the investment was? Twelve million dollars - $9 million by investment by Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (RBTT) and $3 million investment by a private investor... [Mr. Ali: Let us go to St. Kitts now.] Let us look at Trinidad, do not go to St. Kitts as yet. The Trinidad Marriott –Courtyard, that is the level; let us look at Jamaica... in Trinidad it is the Marriott Courtyard; let us look at Barbados – it is the Marriott Courtyard. Now all of these countries that I have referred to are countries with a very strong developed infrastructure and a tourism product that is far more advanced than ours. Yet, all of these countries decided that the Marriott branding will be the Courtyard level. But here in Guyana, we are a poor country, we do not want that. We do not want a $20 million investment; we do not want the Marriott brand for that kind of money. We want the Marriott branding for $50 million US – this is what we want. We want a Marriott hotel and resort.
The Marriott product – there are several categories of investment by the Marriott... [Interruption] [Mr. Nadir: The Courtyard is the lowest.] Even if it is the lowest, all the rest of countries around here have it, but we want the highest. We have donkey carts and we want to live Cadillac style.
We here in Guyana, our public infrastructure is in a poor state and we have to agree with that. The tourism industry in Guyana is focusing on and I heard the Hon. Minister speaking about several things about tourism. Our focus is on eco-tourism, is that not so Mr. Minister? But what we want to do, we want to build a Marriott by the beach; by the Demerara Harbour beach. That is where we want to build the Marriott. If we were to use this very basic matrix to determine the utility of the Marriott branding, we begin to see that the Marriott brand was acquired by our neighbouring countries for far less than the investment we are trying to put into this.
If private individuals in the face of empirical business data are prepared to spend this kind of money, I have no problem with that...
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, it is not my intention to interrupt the Hon. Member really; I am tempted to let him continue. But I did think that I should make the point that there is a great distinction between a Marriott Courtyard and a full Marriott Hotel. [Mrs. Backer: That is not a point of order.] This is a point of elucidation and it is not appropriated to compare a full service Marriott...
Mr. Speaker: Hon. Members, I have not even been able to hear Dr. Singh’s clarification and I need to hear it.
Dr. Singh: I was merely making the point Sir, that there is a great distinction between a Marriott Courtyard and a full service Marriott. It is not appropriate to compare the cost of a Marriott Courtyard with a full Marriott Hotel.
Mr. Speaker: Thank you. I think that is the point that Col. Harmon was trying to make, that the two are so different and the countries in the region have chosen the Courtyard and Guyana has chosen the higher end.
Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: Mr. Speaker, in the scheme of the Marriotts, as the Hon. Minister has risen on this point of order, I can educate him a little further on what the Marriotts are. There are about eighteen brands under the Marriott, including the Marriott Hotels and Resorts, which is the highest and that is what we want. The next is the Ritz-Carlton – the Ritz-Carlton is even below that... [Interruption] [Dr. Singh: We can go to www....] Well alright, you can say what you want, tell me about the Marriott. The Ritz-Carlton, then next we have the JW Marriott, you have the Bulgari, you have the Renaissance, the Autograph Collection, you have the AC Hotels and then you go to the Marriott Courtyard, then you go to the Marriott. So when you are talking about branding, you are talking about going to the top of the level, the highest level. Why do you want to do that, to put it right here? That is the point I am making; you want to go to the top of the level.
I have heard the learned Minister speak about the Hyatt and the development of the Trinidad waterfront. But what I want to say is that Trinidad did not build the Hyatt and then look to develop a waterfront after. They put in place a Waterfront Development Plan, which was passed in the Assembly and a process of development started. The Hyatt is just about one aspect of it; it was a process of development. What we are talking about here is just building a Marriott and putting it there by the seawalls. What about the rest of the city; what about the jetty? [Dr. Singh: The solution is to stop it.] No friend, you just listen to what I am... listen and learn. [Interruption]
Dr. Singh: Mr. Speaker, on a point of elucidation, the Hon. Member invites me to listen and learn. I am quite happy to learn, because I am still capable of learning, unlike, I suspect, some on his side.
Mr. Speaker: I will only allow... [Interruption] Hon. Members, I will only permit points of order, elucidations or clarifications that are pertaining to the content of the subject that we are debating. Thank you.
Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: Mr. Speaker, when you are building a Marriott Resort in the capital city of Georgetown you have to examine closely the infrastructure of the city- you have to examine that. When I was a child many moons ago, I grew up in the countryside at a place called Pouderoyen. The street where I live was a very narrow street called Middle Street. It was bricky; there were a lot of bricks, holes and so on in the street – Middle Street, Pouderoyen. Mr. Speaker, do you know what happened? There was a gentleman there called Mr. MacDonald. Mr. MacDonald went to the Hinterland and he was mining for gold and diamond and he struck out; he made some money. He came back to Georgetown and bought the best car that you could have find. [Mr. Ali: You had the best car Mr. Harmon.] I was a little boy then, you were not even born. He bought the best car you could have find and brought it into the village – you know that was his little Marriott. The car could have only driven one way it and had to reverse because the street was so narrow. The roads were so bricky that after a short time, the tires went, the shocks went and that was the end of his car.
What we are seeing here today is that we are investing in a Marriott Hotel, a five star branding hotel, in the capital city of Georgetown that is in a mess. [Mr. G. Persaud: inaudible...] That was the only car. And now the mess of Georgetown City; the roads are bad, you have garbage, the canals are blocked, bad electricity, you have people who are homeless, children on the streets, you have adults who are also roaming the streets with no place to live and right next to where they are building the Marriott, there is something called Cardboard City. I do not know how many of my colleagues might have gone there, but I went out there and there are a large number of persons who are living out there. I have not seen in the design that has been given to us of the Marriott what they are going to do about that. I have not seen how the Marriott relates to the rest of Georgetown. The Mayor of Georgetown has spoken ad nauseum about the problems he has with the Government’s refusal to allow the city to develop in a certain way.
There is a Greater Georgetown Development Plan, 1999-2012. The elements of that plan, I am sure if they were to be embraced by the Government, we will see a better city. But what has happened? The Government has refused to implement the terms and the recommendations in this plan – they have refused. The proposals were made by a Prof. Akbar Khan, a Town Planner and the only recommendation, as far as the city is saying was followed, was that the new commercial buildings in the central district of Georgetown, that those people who were developing such buildings, should provide parking facilities for their customers. Even this is observed more in the breach than in the conformity – that is the only thing... [Interruption]
So when we are talking about a Marriott branded product, bringing it into the city of Georgetown, we have to cater for all of these things. We cannot build a Marriott and then build a plan around it; it is the other way around. You fix the place and then you can build a Marriott ... [Interruption] ...that is what we are doing.
Clearly, even before the Marriott agrees that its brand is to be used [Mr. B. Williams: Are you still lecturing?] Yes, I am still lecturing. Even before the Marriott agrees this is what is required by the Marriott. There are twelve conditions, which any person or state or company that is seeking to get the Marriott branding, have to satisfy. The first condition and my learned friend, Hon. Member, Mr. Ifraan Ali, addressed some of them, but there are twelve and Mr. Speaker, I will indicate to you the areas where we have a serious difficulty in the providing of information by the Government on this project. First of all it says:
“What is the exact location of your project?”
Well we have that.
“If available, please provide a map illustrating the areas surrounding your project and identify the location of your project on a map.”
They did that, I think I will give you a tick for that.
“Who is the owner of the land?
“Please provide some basic information on the ownership group, for example, primary lines of business, total revenue for the recent year, if not publicly traded, the name of the individual owners.”
You have that.
“What sort of project are you proposing and what facilities will the project have, for example, resort with golf course, pool, tennis etc. or business hotel with convention space?
How many rooms do you anticipate building and what will be the size of a standard guess room?”
You have that, yes, I heard you picked for that.
“Have you engaged a consultant to perform a market study and prepare operating projections for the project, if so please provide a copy?”
Where is it? [Mr. Ali: We got that covered.] Who got it? That is what we are asking for here. Where is it?
“What is the total project budget you envision? Break it down to at least the following categories: Land, Construction, Furniture and Equipment.”
“How do you intent to finance the total project?
What percentage of the debt and what percentage of equity and what are the sources of each.”
Where is it coming from? That is what we want to know. We want to know.
“In which of our brands are you most interested?”
What did you say? [Mr. Ali: The resort.] The resort - the highest, yes.
“Are you interested in a franchising arrangement?”
Answer! [Interruption] No or yes? This is what they asked.
“At what stage are you in the development and design process? Have you hired an architect interior designer, et cetera?
“Please provide us with information on your background, ties or pass experience with the tourism and our hotel industry.”
Who has it? Atlantic Hotel Inc.? They were just formed, what experience do they have? This is what ... you have to provide this even before you get the branding.
Mr. Speaker, clearly an environmental impact assessment will have to be done and this must feature issues such as global warming. Is that why this Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) is taking so long, is that why you all cannot get it so long? Minister R. Persaud was talking here about global warming and the rising of the sea and sea levels and we are building a Marriott right at the sea. Unless our plan is to isolate the visitors, who come to the Marriott, from the rest of Georgetown, then these issues must be addressed.
The National Assembly has a right to demand this information that they were asking for. We have a right. The Marriott people themselves understand that reality. Mr. Andrew Haughton, about which the Hon. Minister of Finance spoke earlier, the Vice President for the Caribbean, when he was here at the turning of the sod... [Mr. Benn: How do you know about it?] How I know about it? I research, that is what I do. Mr. Speaker, this is what the gentleman said among other things:
“We hope to therefore attract conventions here,”
That means the conventions and so on.
“We hope to attract business people who would continue to move your country in a direction that the electorate decides.”
Mr. Speaker, we as the representatives of the people are saying that the project must come to the National Assembly for approval. That is what we are saying. We are saying that the projects...
Mr. Speaker: Cde. Harmon one second, the motion before us is asking for two specific things. What I am hearing from you is that approval is contingent on information. If it is the latter, well then let us move in the direction of the latter.
Lt. Col. (Ret’d) Harmon: Mr. Speaker, I am supporting the motion by the Hon. Member, but I said that at the outset. In addition to that, what we are saying is that we have to have information as well. Let them bring the information.
I wish to reiterate that I stand here and I wish to state categorically that we support the motion standing in the name of the Hon. Member, Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan. [Applause]
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