Two years after work began on the $221.7 million Curepe Interchange, shareholders of the leased Kay Donna Cinema of which Minister of Works and Transport Rohan Sinanan has a beneficial interest, are yet to be paid.
Chairman of the National Infrastructure Development Company (Nidco) Herbert George cleared the air on the issue during an interview with Guardian Media at his El Socorro office following months of fake news on social media that Sinanan had collected millions of dollars from the State for his share of the prime real estate property at the Curepe intersection.
Giving a breakdown of payments made to the 37 landowners whose properties were in the direct path of the interchange and had been acquired, George said a total of $18 million has already been handed out with another $18 million still to be paid.
“Some of the payments might be in abeyance now because there are still discussions with valuers. So negotiations are still taking place. I cannot give you a date by when it will all be settled. What I can tell you there has been some fairness with negotiations and payments,” George said.
The contract was awarded in 2017 to China Railway Construction Corporation (CRCC).
Work on the multi-million dollar project is scheduled to be completed by March 2020.
So far 60 per cent of the work has been done with part of the highway to be opened by December which would alleviate traffic congestion.
At a press conference last September, Sinanan had told reporters that Valsayn Resorts bought the lease of the Kay Donna cinema of which he was an executive of the company.
Sinanan said many years ago, he relinquished his position from the company but maintained a beneficial interest because the sale of the land had not been completed.
“Until the payment is completed for my share I have to maintain that I do not have a beneficial interest,” Sinanan had said.
George said to say that Sinanan is part owner of the property was “scandalous and almost backward.”
He said the highway was not conceptualised by the PNM Government for Sinanan to gain from the sale of Kay Donna’s land.
“This project was not dreamt up by the PNM to put that thing there (interchange) so as to impact Sinanan’s property and be able to give Sinanan money.”
George said the project was developed under the then People’s Partnership (PP) regime at a cost of $400 million, stating that from the start it was embroiled in controversy and confusion, with NIDCO terminating the tendering process after the September 2015 general election.
Fresh tenders went out for the project in 2017 and CCRC won the bid which now cost taxpayers $179 million less.
Had things gone smoothly under the PP, George said the project would have still been ongoing when the PNM assumed office.
“So the project has not changed... the design has remained the same and it was impacting the Kay Donna property then. So what is this big cry about? I hold no brief for him (Sinanan.)”
He said a team of people had interest in the leased property.
“So they had some meeting of the minds and negotiations. Sinanan was never part of that. In fact, they have not even paid for Kay Donna yet. Kay Donna has not been paid for. But you have everybody up and down the town talking about Sinanan and how the thing was done to give Sinanan money...and to put money in Sinanan’s pocket. That is furthest from the truth.”
Questioned when Government will pay Kay Donna, George said it was not a NIDCO thing.
“To be quite honest....I have not seen what has been offered...and what has it been accepted. It is just not on the table because it was not a property that we had to acquire. In a situation like this...maybe an agreement was reached and they have not been paid yet. That is possible.”
Told that it had been reported on social media that Sinanan had collected $11 million as his share for the property, George shot back saying that social media was a threat to democracy.
George said no one knows that total sum paid, the number of shareholders involved in the property, the residual value of the lease, but everyone knows Sinanan collected $11 million.
“But what you get is the emotive nonsense to support a particular narrative that Sinanan benefitted the Government’s money...so he got $11 million. I am not going down that road. One would have to give me some more information before I can make the conclusion that Sinanan really benefitted and benefitted too much.”
He admitted that some of the claims put forward by some landowners were extremely exorbitant.
“That is why compulsory acquisition had to come into play.”
One residential landowner had put in a claim for $20 million. But following negotiations with the State the figure dropped to $5 million.