Govt, Princess Casino collude to quash Marriott Casino tenders – Jagdeo

The Guyana Marriott Hotel in Georgetown
The Guyana Marriott Hotel in Georgetown

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo has accused the Government and the authorities of Princess Hotel and Casino of working in tandem to block the realisation of another casino at the Marriott Hotel so as to cement a monopoly in the local casino business.

The Opposition Leader recently expressed his dissatisfaction with the actions of Government for poorly handling the tendering process for this initiative.

“Minister Jaipaul Sharma said that they met also with everyone else under the sun. So, according to Sharma when he met with the Princess officials, he was told they had made appointments with other Ministers including Jordan, then Minister of State Joseph Harmon, then Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin and Minister Amna Ally. I was the first Minister that readily agreed to meet with them so why would the person mention to the reporter that AHI [Atlantic Hotel Inc] squashed the expression of interest because of a private meeting with a Minister? This stinks.”

He emphasised that the scrapping of the tenders for the establishment of the Marriott Hotel’s casino occurred because of the unethical and questionable actions of some Government Ministers with regard to them secretly meeting with a bidder of the project and this was part of a plan to ensure that the Princess Hotel Casino did not have competition in that business.

“The Ministers and the people who are putting out the bid, the Board, are complicit in this, they have achieved their purpose; we have nothing now. There is no competition, there is no competition, so because when you have one operating casino you get all the benefits. So, this stinks too.”

Jagdeo stated that this entire situation fits in with the Government’s corruption theme that it continues to promote and that had the Administration pursued the Marriott Casino project in the transparent manner that was necessary, then the country would have gained a lot financially.

“Remember this was supposed to be a corrupt PPP [People’s Progressive Party] project – the Marriott Hotel and it is supposed to be a hospital; they were converting it, now it is probably one of the most profitable hotels anywhere in the world. And they need more rooms; in fact, I am hearing they want to expand. And the Government owns 100 per cent of it, but the value would substantially be enhanced if you had a casino operation there too. Because people pay a premium for that licence so the value to our country and to the treasury would be greatly enhanced,” he explained.

Jagdeo added that since it was a fruitful initiative that would have benefited Guyana immensely, the Opposition believed that the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Administration would have pursued such plans, since the results would have eventually benefited the Guyanese populace.

Recently, Minister within the Finance Ministry, Jaipaul Sharma, insisted that he was the one who “blew the whistle” on the Marriott tendering process, which appeared to have been flawed and subsequently it was quashed.

This was after he had been reportedly accused of secretly meeting with representatives of Princess Group, which runs Princess Casino.

The Turkish-controlled group was one of a number of investors which signalled intentions to run a casino operation at the State-owned Marriott, in Kingston.

The Princess Group and a Surinamese investor were said to be frontrunners while the evaluation process was being conducted in 2018.

However, the process was scrapped after the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), that is mandated to handle investments, said it was alerted to an irregular meeting and correspondence between the group and Minister Sharma.

The AHI is the NICIL special purpose company that owns Marriott, a 197-room hotel that opened in 2015, whose financing structure had depended on a casino and entertainment centre to make enough money to repay up to US$30 million in debts to the banks and other creditors.

The Government of Guyana took over the loan after Marriott was unable to pay. It was decided that an unfinished section of the hotel would be opened for investment in a casino.