NA council seeking compensation for industrial site land
By Daniel DaCosta
December 1, 2002
Since it was first mooted some five years ago, development of the planned New Amsterdam industrial site has been plagued by a number of setbacks and difficulties. Bickerings over who should have jurisdiction over the site and its development, behind the scenes political squabbles, administrative spats and indifferent attitudes have all played a part in the non-realisation to date of this much-anticipated project.
Back in July 1998 a committee comprising representatives of the Ministries of Trade and Finance, the regional administration, the New Amsterdam Town Council, Go-Invest and the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Association (BCC&DA) was established to co-ordinate the establishment of the site with a mandate to complete its work within three months of its formation.
Some $13 million was allocated in that year’s budget for infrastructure works on the site at Savannah Park on the town’s south-eastern edge.
The chamber had said then that it had received some 20-odd applications from individuals and business-persons for plots while one major Georgetown-based entity was expected to invest some $100 million on the site.
Since then Berbicians and in particular New Amsterdamers have been anxiously awaiting the realisation of this project which was expected to create much-needed employment opportunities and boost the town’s development.
Since 1998, approximately $13 million has been allocated in successive budgets for infrastructural works and almost every year the funds have found their way back to the treasury. Apart from the cleaning of the site back in 1998 only the main access road and bridge have been constructed.
In 1999, President Bharrat Jagdeo who was then finance minister had called on the Ministry of Trade and the Town Council to resolve their differences while expressing disappointment over the lack of progress on the site. “If nothing happens we would be forced to take other measures,” he had said then.
This week New Amsterdam Mayor Claude Henry disclosed that the council was seeking compensation for the land from the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce. According to Henry, this position was conveyed to Minister Manzoor Nadir at a meeting two or three months ago in New Amsterdam at the chamber’s offices.
“However, the minister said that the government was not prepared to pay one cent for the land.” Asked to comment on the council’s position, Nadir said that the ministry is seeking to lease the land from the council, and is awaiting a decision on the matter. According to Nadir, the government cannot invest millions of dollars in developing the land and then hand it over to the council which in turn will earn revenue in the form of rates and taxes from the business entities. He urged the council to think very carefully about its final decision, noting that it will cost approximately $96 million to develop the site. He further said that the ministry may start exploring alternative sites in the region following the passage of next year’s budget. He described the project as one of the major avenues through which the council can stimulate business and create employment.
According to Henry, business persons at the meeting with the minister were reluctant to commit themselves, saying they were awaiting the completion of development works on the site. “The ministry was seeking commitments from at least ten businesses but only three or four indicated their willingness to establish. We want to see the site become a reality but at the same time we would like to receive something in return since the council is cash-strapped.”
Henry said he did not believe the ministry would hand over the site to the council after it was completed. Asked what was the council’s final position on the matter, Henry said the council was seeking legal advice on “the next step.” Councillors, he said, feel very strongly that the council should be compensated for the land.
President of the Berbice Chamber of Commerce and Development Association, Ramesh Maraj confirmed that the minister had said that the government was not prepared to purchase the land. “According to the minister, the ministry would develop the land and hand it over to the council which will earn revenue from the site.
“The land,” he pointed out “has been idle for several years now and if the site is developed the council and the town will benefit tremendously. If the site is not developed now it may not be developed for the next twenty years. I hope that the project will become a reality but unfortunately we are at square one all the time,” he lamented.
Some 30 plots are available on the site. Last year then Minister of Trade and Tourism, Geoffrey Da Silva disclosed that 15 business entities had applied for plots at the site.
Regional Chairman Rohit Persaud when contacted said he was unaware of the status quo of the project since he could not recall being invited to attend any recent meetings.
According to the mayor, the council is also exploring the possibility of selling the plots to interested business persons some of whom have been approaching them. This development is likely to have a negative impact on an already struggling town badly in need of investment and employment opportunities.
Canadian Executive Service Organisation volunteer, Jagdev Dhillon who compiled a Community Development Plan for the town at the council’s request in 1994 had also recommended that an industrial site be developed in the town.