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Wednesday 20 November 2019
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Rowley: Don’t blame Newman George for HDC/China deal collapse

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE
Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley PHOTO BY AYANNA KINSALE

NEWMAN GEORGE, Housing Development Corporation (HDC), is not to be blamed for the cancelled US$72 million contract between the HDC and China Gezhouba Group International Engineering Co Ltd (CGGC), the Prime Minister said at a briefing yesterday at the Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s, to mark his return from a US trip.

Reporters asked about George’s naming as head of Paria Fuel Trading Company, following the failed HDC/Gezhouba deal.

“We didn’t put Newman George to run the HDC. This is not a Newman George thing,” Rowley replied. He said "many, many people" were involved in preparing this contract.

“The board of HDC is not Newman George. The management of HDC is not Newman George. We are not personalising this.”

He said the HDC was an agency which had come to a position.

Rowley said it was irrelevant and just an administrative issue if he as Prime Minister had also held the housing portfolio at the time the contract was signed.

Asked if he had confidence in George heading to Paria, Rowley said, “If I didn’t have confidence in him, I’d not allow Cabinet to appoint him there.”

Rowley said the project re-tender may not be for as much as US$72 million.

He said there is no shame over the contract cancellation.

The PM said the project was part of a debate over the powers of statutory authorities/state enterprises versus those of Cabinet, with different attorneys having different views.

“This (HDC) matter has been a fairly complex matter. Cabinet approved a framework agreement which is a non-binding, non-detailed agreement, meaning you are free to go in that direction. There are interpretations by some people as to what that means.”

“HDC proceeded to the point of a contract.”

He said by the time Cabinet discovered a problem, they gave the necessary oversight and monitoring which Cabinet cannot relinquish.

“Having done that, for many reasons including a review of its own position, Cabinet decided this should not go forward and we should start over.

“That is not anything for us to be ashamed of or to be worried about. The system has worked.” Rowley said Cabinet had not ignored queries raised.

The PM said Cabinet was unhappy with some aspects of the contract, including a conflict between the plan to sell apartments (which people may not be able to afford) and Cabinet’s desire to build rental units. He also lamented the old deal would have required the HDC to get help from several ministries and may have been too accommodating to a foreign entity.

Rowley said the project would be re-tendered and hopefully be more accommodating to local contractors and “significant local participation.”

He said some public-private partnerships were taking too long, but now they know what they are dealing with. Saying the price-tag may be less than US$72 million, he said local contractors are claiming they can build it cheaper than Gezhouba.

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