With the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) struggling to stay afloat, calls were made to the government to have the contentious High Street, Georgetown building sold so that GFC can retain millions of dollars it had invested in the construction of the property. Minister of Natural Resources, Raphael Trotman confirmed earlier today that the government will be moving in this direction.
“The building is an eyesore. It is an embarrassment and I’m told that vagrants are living in it…[They] are starting fires, etcetera. At the end of the day, GGMC has the transport [and] we are at a position where it is accepted that the building will be sold,” the minister said during a media briefing at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre in Liliendaal, East Coast Demerara.
He noted also that the government has already begun the process but could not commit to a timeline for completion. The minister added that the building will be sold “as is” and whether the new owners will want to use it or take it down will be entirely up to them.
Government’s decision to sell the building comes weeks after Director-General of the Ministry of the Presidency Joseph Harmon claimed that the financial woes of the GFC stemmed from the past administration’s $600M investment in the building.
The building was placed under the spotlight after the GFC was unable to pay its workers on time due to a lack of funds. This issue had garnered the attention of the labour union, the Guyana Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU), and the government, who met to come up with a plan.
The Director-General also said that one of the remedies explored in preventing the GFC from going belly-up is examining how it can be paid under the Norway agreement for its forest preservation services now that the commission is involved in maintaining low deforestation levels.
Trotman said today that arrangements are being made for the commission to access Norwegian fund and Cabinet has given its support by actualising the process through the Ministry of the Presidency. The government is also exploring other options since the sale of the building alone will not solve the financial problems being faced by GFC.
The story of the High Street building has long been a controversial one. The property is located at 44 High Street and was constructed in 2007. It now stands where the former headquarters of the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) was once located.
Previous reports indicate that both the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) and the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) would have together put over $400M into the building’s construction.
According to the 2015 Forensic Audit Report of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), which was prepared by Chartered Accountant and former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran, the structure was expected to be torn down because the floors were not constructed to the required specifications.
As the “Project Executing Unit”, the NICIL’s role was to ensure that the works were executed according to the agreed specifications. However, it failed to discharge its responsibility for this project, resulting in some $350M of taxpayers’ funds being wasted, the report stated.