Brazil-Guyana fibre optic cable…Contract will be renegotiated – Harmon
After some weeks of information gathering, the Granger administration has decided on its plans for the highly contentious Brazil to Guyana fibre optic cable project.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon during his latest press conference told Kaieteur News that this is another project to come under the government’s radar considering that it is absorbing millions of taxpayers’ dollars.
“I did indicate to you the last time we met that I had a request from the gentlemen you spoke about, Fasil Mohamed, but I was not ready to meet with him because I need to get a better sense of where we are with the project and I am now able to do so. I have met with the persons in government who had anything to do with it and so I am in a better position to do so,” the Minister stated.
He added, “I am looking at several things in this regard because we are spending monies on a daily basis on some of these projects and we may have to just draw the line, and say no more work until we see what is going on here but we haven’t gotten to that as yet because we were in the process of gathering information to put us in a position to make informed decisions.”
The fibre optic cable project is part of an Information Communication Technology Initiative of the former PPP/C government to bring cheaper internet service to Guyana’s shores from the neighbouring Portuguese speaking territory.
But after some years, the cable project collapsed and under pressure from the media, the previous administration admitted that the cable was in a poor state.
Before the PPP/C lost the May 11, 2015 elections, former Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon had announced that Dax Contracting Services owned by Faisal Mohamed, was awarded a contract to rehabilitate the cable.
The agreement states that Dax will undertake the repair and maintain the fibre optic cable from Brazil. This contract is for an initial 25 years with an option to renew it for a further 15 years. This gives Dax a total of 40 years of cable rights.
The PPP/C administration also undertook to provide Mohamed with the necessary support to receive and transmit data by way of the cable after granting the company an operating licence.
And for free, Mohamed will be able to use the Government-owned fibre optic cables and structures including, roads, the poles, access to repeater stations and other things.
Dax Contracting Services would also be provided with tax exemptions and incentives, including but not limited to tax holidays, remissions, tax waivers and duty free concessions on equipment, spares, tools and vehicles.
The then PPP government insisted that it would retain possession and use of most of the bandwidth.
As the owner of parts of the cable, the contract gave Mohamed the power to invite and sign with any company or entity to use them to transmit and receive data and information from any part of the world in the same way that today’s telephone companies operate.
To add insult to injury, the former government had agreed to pay Dax for specific emergency maintenance.
Harmon also spoke to the issue of Guyana already accumulating some US$76, 000 annually in debt for the internet connectivity which had stopped at the Brazilian borders even though Guyana is yet to utilize it.
The Minister of State said, “We are going to renegotiate all these things (debt). What I found is that in a number of the international agreements which we entered during the PPP era, the quality of the negotiations was very poor in some cases…So with respect to Brazil and the debt and that contract, we have to re-enter into conversations with the Brazilians and to see whether in fact we can get a better deal.”
He added, “We are fresh and we are a new government and I believe some countries might very well want to cut us some slack because they recognize that the image of this country has been severely damaged by the previous administration…”
Additionally, the Dax Contracting Services proprietor told Kaieteur News in a brief interview that he is eager to meet the new administration and speak with them on the works needed to be done on the Brazil to Guyana fibre optic cable. He sought to set the record straight that even though he was given what appeared to be a “sweetheart contract”, he has been unable to access the concessions.
Mohamed said that “it is tied up at the Finance Ministry.”
The Contractor said that as a result of this, he has been forced to dip into his own pockets to complete at least quarter of the works costing millions of dollars.
He noted that thus far he has finished most of the works on the Linden Highway with some minor adjustments to be made.
“I am willing to negotiate with the new administration, the whole contract and everything, concessions included. I want us all to be happy,” Mohamed added.
Further, the Minister of State, Joseph Harmon maintained that he has not seen the head of the E-Governance project, Alexei Ramotar at work since the new administration took over.
Ramotar however, stated that his latest report on the project was submitted just about two weeks ago to the Ministry of the Presidency and he has been reporting for duties daily.
Harmon in the past had been extremely critical of the former President’s son and questioned his competence to hold such a position. While Harmon still holds this view, Ramotar expressed that he is still willing to work along with the new government “given the importance of the E-Governance project.”
The US$32M E-Governance project is not concerned with internet, but acts as a database centre for government agencies and ministries with certain applications which would facilitate a better management of payment processes and other information efficiently. Ramotar had explained that internet is just a service the project can provide, but it is not the main purpose of the project. He had said that the project will be rolled out in a phased manner and could take a number of years because of its expansive nature.
The E-governance project, he insisted, “was completed and is in the process of being operationalized.”