Govt. cagey about releasing MoU on China’s troubled Belt and Road Initiative

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Last week Wednesday, the Government of Guyana had no qualms about releasing within hours, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Energy which was signed with Trinidad and Tobago.  In fact, President David Granger had said this was done because “there is nothing to hide.”

But when it comes to the MoU on China’s Belt and Road Initiative which Guyana signed onto two months ago, the government said is not so sure if it wants to go public with the document as yet.

At his weekly post-Cabinet briefing, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon said that Cabinet will have to decide on this matter. While Cabinet works on its indecisiveness, Harmon was keen to note that the MoU with China is no secret.

The Minister of State said, “I don’t know if there is a call now being made for every Memorandum of Understanding signed between the government and a bilateral or a multilateral agency …to be made public. If that is the call you are making, then certainly this is something which Cabinet will have to determine.”

The Cabinet Secretary also sought to defend the release of the MoU with Trinidad, saying that it was done because there was “big hue and a cry” about it.

The Minister said, “The President said we will make it public and the next day it was in the newspaper full. So, there is nothing for us to hide where these MoUs are concerned and certainly once it is in the public’s interest and there are no security concerns, certainly we will make these agreements public.”

China’s Belt and Road Initiative is commonly seen as a programme to fund and build infrastructure in some 78 countries around the globe. But in recent years, there have been growing concerns that the Initiative is nothing but a debt trap.

RWR Advisory Group, a Washington-based consultancy, has found that projects worth US$419B, or 32 percent by value of the total in Belt and Road countries since 2013, have run into “trouble.” Some of these include performance delays, public opposition or national security controversies.

In Malaysia, about US$23B in China-backed infrastructure were suspended in July due to allegations of corruption. Mahathir Mohammed, the country’s newly-elected prime minister, has pledged to review all Chinese projects and “unequal treaties”.

Pakistan is another country that has landed in hot water. Its external debt crisis is exacerbated by ballooning debts to China incurred as part of a US$62B injection into the Belt and Road Initiative.

Cambodia is also under stress. A surge in imports of capital goods for use mainly on China-funded infrastructure projects has widened the country’s trade deficit to 10 percent of GDP.

Even Sri Lanka had to transfer ownership of its Port of Hambantota to China after it could not afford debt repayments.

In several other countries, including Myanmar and Montenegro, debt sustainability issues are emerging.

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