Controversy over Water Street site
TPL Chairman suggests independent assessor to value swap properties
Company rejects Kowlessar's claims

Stabroek News
August 17, 2001

Toolsie Persaud Ltd (TPL) has taken issue with Finance Minister, Saisnarine Kowlessar's claim that it inflated the value of the Water Street site which the government plans to acquire to relocate vendors.

Its chairman, Toolsie Persaud has also written to President Bharrat Jagdeo requesting a meeting with him and suggesting since there was no agreement on an equitable swap of TPL/state properties, that an independent professional assessor be identified to value the sites in question.

He suggested that the assessor's valuation be final and the owner of the lower valued property bear the difference in the stipulated financial disbursement to the other. The passage of the Acquisition of Land for Public Purposes (Amendment) Bill 2001 yesterday by the National Assembly has cleared the way for acquisition of the site by the government. (See story on page 1.)

In a statement on Tuesday, which he repeated in parliament yesterday, Kowlessar claimed that TPL submitted a valuation of $457 million for the site it purchased 14 years ago for $2.7 million, and said it carried out works on it valued at $398 million.

In a statement yesterday, TPL described Kowlessar's claim as "manifestly untrue, unfounded and an unsubstantiated assault on the reputation of the company and the character of its principals.

"Moreover, the minister's comments impugn the integrity of the two highly qualified and respected professionals who were enlisted by the company to carry out these appraisals to aid in an equitable resolution of TPL's engagement with the administration. It was President Jagdeo himself who stressed the need for a professional valuation as a precondition to a proper settlement. TPL accepted this position and sought the best skills available."

It said that the firms, CR Marshall Associates, Chartered Quantity Surveyors and Construction Cost Consultants, and H.B. Curtis, Dip. Est Man (Lon) FRICS, Chartered Valuation Surveyor, were prepared to defend and justify their respective valuations of the open market value of the land and the development works carried out on it by TPL since its purchase in 1987. "They are, understandably, both deeply offended by the finance minister's insinuations."

In defence of the $457 million valuation of the site, the TPL statement quoted Curtis as describing it as "by far the most prime vacant site situated in downtown Georgetown." The TPL statement described the GSL garage it has identified as part of the proposed swap with the government as "far removed from the commercial core of Water Street and ... particularly vulnerable to criminal activity. The building situated on it is dilapidated" and TPL questioned how the government arrived at a valuation of $868.4M for this site and the GSL Berbice building when it assigned an arbitrary value of $100M to the TPL site.

In defence of the $398 million value put on the infrastructural works, site office, architectural drawings designs and other expenditure incurred by the company by CR Marshall Associates, the TPL statement explained these included hiring a project manager and support staff, securing drawings from a US architectural firm (the architect in question paid four visits to Guyana, from his Miami base), excavating and demolishing the existing foundation, pile testing and pile driving, soil tests and analysis and other ancillary work too numerous to mention.

"The project itself, estimated at US$3 million in 1993 and U$5 million today, was to be completed in two phases over a three-year period with the involvement of over 300 skilled and semi-skilled workers. The project was well-ventilated in the media in 1987 to coincide with the commencement of work."

It reiterated that the Water Street plot was worth much more than the $100 million value arbitrarily assigned to it by the finance minister and the $457,028,906 assessed by Curtis in his professional judgement. "The property was intended to be the centrepiece of the company's expansion and diversification plans and could still be if TPL is given the opportunity."

The statement said that a combination of factors which prevailed at various times and not a lack of commitment on its part had prevented the project from moving beyond the preparatory stage. These were political unrest, the downturn in the forestry and quarry sectors, and the performance of the economy among others.

However, it said in the last few months when it had taken the decision to proceed with the project and had begun mobilising equipment and resources, it "was impeded by the presence of

scores of vendors blocking ingress and egress at the site."

"TPL had been in communication with the City Council to have this problem resolved when President Jagdeo made his announcement. TPL was not granted the courtesy of prior consultation or being told in advance that its property was to be acquired, but was presented with a fait accompli."

TPL recalled that during questioning of the government as to why the GSL bond option first touted for vendors was not pursued, the President had retorted to the effect that "the vendors want Toolsie. His Excellency reacted similarly when the [TPL] chairman volunteered significant financial and material assistance to facilitate the vendors' relocation to a site other than TPL's."

It stated that TPL's representatives tried their utmost to be constructive in the subsequent talks with the President and his advisers. "TPL, for example, did not question whether a definition of the public interest extended to taking from a well established private corporation with over 1,000 employees property which was central to its diversification plans to accommodate vendors who were illegally plying their trade on the streets and pavement in defiance of a City Council unable or unwilling to enforce the law." The statement said that TPL would prefer to keep its property and proceed with its development plans, which it remained convinced would be of immense benefit to all citizens and enhance the aesthetics of the city and the commercial district.

The TPL statement said that it shared the finance minister's regret that an amicable agreement had so far proved to be elusive. "TPL does not accept the responsibility for this failure. The issue is not one of the company's making and has already preoccupied its directors and senior executives to the detriment of other aspects of the company's operations. TPL desires closure, but an equitable closure."

It said it believed "that an imposed resolution (if an imposition can be so termed) will have serious implications for Guyana's private sector, investment climate and economic prospects. For this reason, TPL will continue to exercise flexibility, reasonableness and constructive compromise as evidenced by its chairman's proposals to President Jagdeo."