New DHB project hit with more setbacks

Following the termination of the New Demerara Harbour Bridge contract discussions with China State Construction Engineering Corporation Limited (CSCEC) earlier this February, the installed Government of Guyana announced that they are in negotiations with the second most qualified bidder to start the construction.

However, the Government may not have been entirely truthful with the Guyanese people on the future of the project, given that the Environmental Protection Agency had red flagged certain aspects of the Bridge Project and had recommended the project to the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB), whose life expired in December last year, for a determination on whether there is a need for an Environmental Impact Assessment  (EIA).

According to the Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Kemraj Parsram, in order for the project to move forward, a decision has to be made by the EAB whether an EIA is required. Previously, a decision was made by the EPA, and there was an objection; this triggered an automatic process to the Environmental Assessment Board, an independent body for review, Parsram told the press recently. However,  the EPA head is seemingly siding with the Government and is not favorable to having the EIA done. He believes that the benefits clearly outweigh the current environmental impacts, which he noted are not significant.

“And having returned to the Agency, I reviewed all that information, I said it doesn’t really make any sense to go through having to do another EIA. That information was adequate to inform us that we do not need an environmental and social impact assessment,” he contended, even though major changes were made to project design and specification. “The social benefits, or the positive benefits, far outweigh the current environmental impact,” the Director posited. “The next step is to ensure, through our permitting, that when the project is approved, that we will set up the necessary safeguards to make sure that the impacts that are there, that they are not significant and will be managed, and then we can have the project go ahead,” Parsram explained.

In September 2021, President Dr. Irfaan Ali and Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo had both expressed support for the move by the EPA to bypass an EIA for the project. Successive PPP Governments over the years have been strongly criticized for its lackluster approach to the spending of taxpayers monies. This approach has led to the loss of billions of dollars on failed mega projects that have either become ‘white elephants’ or have been siphoned off to friends and family of the party. The original contract for the new Demerara River Bridge, was described recently by former Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson as “shovel-ready” at the time of APNUAFC leaving office.

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