Jun 07, 2014 News
The owners of a controversial piece of land on the West Demerara, sold by Government to build a wood-processing factory, yesterday claimed that local authorities refused to grant permission for the project.
That prompted the decision to convert the land into houselots.
According to South American Woods Inc., a company owned by New York-based Guyanese businessman, Ed Ahmad and his brother, Shareef, the Leonora land that it purchased from National Investment and Commercial Investment Ltd (NICIL) was vacant for many years.
“On multiple occasions, the land was nationally advertised for sale but no offer was made. In each of the advertisements, there was no mention of any specific land use,” the company said in a press statement.
The land once belonged to GuySuCo and it was reportedly sold with the explicit agreement of the factory. However, the land was converted into a housing project, sparking criticisms from the Opposition which believed that all was not right with the deal. Already a number of homes have been built.
Breaking the silence, Shareef Ahmad insisted that he overpaid for the land in 2009.
“In fact, I paid a sum of $80M, an amount that was above the going price at the time. Remember that prior to this agreement, the sale of this land was subject to two earlier bids: in 2003, the highest bid amounted to $30 million, while in 2004, the land was again tendered for bids and none was received. So, the issue that I underpaid for the land was unfounded. It is the other way around; I actually overpaid.”
Ahmad said he was forced to respond to an article dated May 25, 2014, in the Kaieteur News which quoted the Alliance For Change, an Opposition party in the National Assembly, and Ramon Gaskin, an independent analyst. Both criticised the conditions of the deal which they said failed to create employment opportunities for the neighborhood.
According to Ahmad, the issue about the deal being a “sweetheart” one is not only ridiculous but ludicrous.
“Here is why? The fact I paid US$25,000 per acre for this land, while much more desirable land at Eccles and Providence on the East Bank Demerara (and which) was being sold for a mere US$18,000 per acre, suggest that David Patterson (AFC) didn’t take time to compile his data accurately. He was totally misguided.”
Ahmad stressed that it would be incorrect to suggest that his company breached the land contract with GuySuCo.
“In order to build any type of structure including an industrial facility, one is required to file with the local NDC and health department (EPA). I have done so accordingly with both NDC and EPA. These agencies have conducted their own environmental studies and concluded that such facilities should not be erected. The main reason cited was of the unnecessary noise and pollution to the nearby residential area and schools.”
Ahmad insisted that he would have breached the law had he gone ahead with the project.
The businessman said that after the NDC and EPA rejection, his company then went ahead and “followed the proper procedures by filing necessary papers for the court” to consider the zoning amendments.
“After reasonable considerations, the court granted the zone change to Residential/Commercial uses. So, your allegation of intentional change of land use was unfounded.”
Ahmad also claimed that the housing project with its amenities has resulted in employment opportunities by ten times the original estimates through the “investment-spending multiplier effect”.
“The improvement to this land, which was used initially as a dumping ground before I purchased it, is clear and transparent (that) I am committed to create jobs and enhance the community.”
“Finally, the travesty of this situation is that other investors are paying keen attention to the way my current situation is being unfolded by these frivolous allegations. There are those in Guyana who are not eager to see the country prosper; as this would defy their purpose and focus which is to attack and bash the current Administration. We urge you not to use our company as a conduit for your attacks.”
The businessman said he is proud to invest in Guyana.
The Leonora Mall and Hollywood Garden project as it is called would have included 87 homes with each houselot being sold for at least $7M each which would have brought in at least $600M for the company.
In announcing the sale, NICIL and its sister agency, Privatisation Unit, had said that the use of the land was restricted to value-added wood processing operations.
It is the plan to also include a full gas and service station, facilities to house two banks and a huge shopping mall.
“Leonora Projects illustrates the envisioning of an entire community, not just homes,” the website says.
NICIL had denied that it was not aware of the change of land use. Rather, it acted as a mere agent when the transaction was done between Ahmad and GuySuCo.
NICIL said that GuySuCo entered into a Restrictive Covenant as set out in the terms and conditions of the sale, published in the Vesting Order, effecting the transfer of title, that “the property shall not be used for any other purpose other than for the construction and operation of a wood processing facility with the option of future development in manufacturing, industrial and commercial activities including the construction and operation of a shopping mall, providing that the construction of the wood processing facility is commenced first” and that construction of the wood processing facility commences within one year of the agreement.
The project had come in for scrutiny when Ed Ahmad’s name came up as part of the transaction.
A close friend of former President Bharrat Jagdeo, Ahmad is also no stranger to negative publicity. He was charged by US Federal authorities for his involvement in a massive fraud scheme and in 2012, he entered a plea deal with US agents, and was found guilty of knowingly and intentionally conspiring to defraud several lending institutes over a 15-year period.
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