Sep 04, 2012 News
“What is wrong with a former president or a president seeking to ensure that he lives a comfortable life after his presidency? Especially because we have term limits, knowing full well that you are going to demit office, you must ensure that you look for your future. We must not go from a president to rags,” – Labour Minister Nanda Gopaul.
Bharrat Jagdeo, while in office, acquired more wealth than any other president of independent Guyana.
This is according to Alliance for Change (AFC) Chairman attorney at law Nigel Hughes.
Hughes made the observation while single-handedly taking on two cabinet ministers – Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall and Labour Minister Nanda Gopaul – a PPP sympathizer and the Chief Labour Officer, during the latest edition of the National Communication Network-organized public debates on corruption.
The other main opposition A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) has opted out of the debates.
Amidst a string of rebuttals from his opponents, Hughes went on to point out that “no other head of state in this country through independence to now…while they were president, made a business of the presidency to acquire the assets that the State owned; not assets they went out on the open market and bought; assets that the State owned, and they then converted and bought below market prices.”
Hughes was mainly referring to the house that the former Guyanese leader now owns at Sparendaam East Coast Demerara (Pradoville 2), which he described as a “Palace”.
According to Hughes, Jagdeo managed to purchase prime ocean front land for $5M per acre, an amount way below the market value of such property.
“This is State land acquired by the government of the day and distributed to the President and the President’s friends below market prices, next to Courida Park, some of the most expensive real estate. I’m still waiting to find out where I can get one acre of ocean front property, prime real estate for $5M per acre,” Hughes said.
He challenged his opponents to identify whether Dr. Jagan or even President Burnham ever carried out such practices.
His assertions were strongly refuted by Labour Minister Nanda Gopaul and Attorney General Anil Nandlall, who made it clear that Jagdeo received what every other Guyanese received under the government’s housing programme.
Nandlall explained that like every other Guyanese, Jagdeo was allocated a house lot for $58,000, which in the particular case was located in Goedverwagting, or what is popularly called Pradoville, on the East Coast of Demerara.
“It is most unfair to say that the president took the nation’s assets and enriched himself,” he said.
It was emphasised that at the time of the acquisition, Jagdeo was Minister of Finance and not the President.
“The difference between Mr. Jagdeo and every other President in this country is that he took power in his thirties. He didn’t own anything, he came back from studies, he worked and he acquired as he was working. He was the only President that is distinguished in that respect,” the Attorney General stated.
According to Labour Minister Gopaul, the Ministry of Housing is an authority in Guyana to develop housing schemes and sell house lots, and all the prices are consistent with State value.
Nandlall explained that with a tax free salary of close to $1M per month, along with other benefits as President, Jagdeo could afford to construct a house, which he could have eventually resold for US$600,000 (G$120M).
The Attorney General defended the price that Jagdeo managed to get for the property since he, Nandlall, had personally negotiated the deal as the duly constituted attorney for the former President.
“That was not the agreed price. US$600,000 was not the price that the President wanted, he wanted higher than that. We finally arrived at a price and I conducted the entire transaction,” Nandlall said.
But the AFC Chairman questioned the integrity of the whole sale, noting that it appeared as if there was some Presidential hand-wringing.
“When you are in the office of presidency and you are the only person who can sell a two-storey concrete building on 5000 square feet of land, residential property, for US$600,000, there is some magic there. And so that you do not expose yourself to an allegation that you are not being improperly influenced, particularly where the purchaser is the campaign manager of the PPP,” Hughes stated.
But the Attorney General countered by declaring that he has done conveyances as a practitioner of law, whereby he sold residential properties for US$1M and over.
“I have done it in this country and I’m sure that Mr. Hughes has done so,” Nandlall argued.
Nandlall disclosed that after the sale another piece of land was made available for distribution to a certain quality of Guyanese office holders, a category into which the former President fell.
“The impression that is being given here, that the President embarked upon this conquest and acquired land by some improper way and improper procedure, is one that must be wholly rejected,” the Attorney General stated emphatically.
According to Nandlall, many persons, including Ministers of the government, former Commissioners of Police and CARICOM Secretariat officials, were offered land for sale there, a move that he said was made public.
But Hughes countered that he like many other Guyanese was unaware that the State land at Pradoville 2, which “Jagdeo and his close associates” now occupy, was advertised for sale publicly.
“Can I ask…where was this land advertised? When did they advertise ocean front land?”
It was around that time that Labour Minister Nanda Gopaul made one of the more controversial contributions of the debate.
He argued that there was nothing wrong with a President fortifying himself financially while in office.
“What is wrong with a former President or a President seeking to ensure that he lives a comfortable life after his presidency? Especially because we have term limits, knowing full well that you are going to demit office, you must ensure that you look for your future. We must not go from a President to rags,” Gopaul asserted.
He further argued that the assets of the former President can be scrutinised so that anyone can see how he has acquired his wealth.
At the conclusion of the debate, the AFC Chairman reiterated that there must be a cap on the former President’s benefits, since it would be unfair to the taxpayers for Jagdeo to build a palace and have them “foot the bill” for its upkeep.
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