The Mayor and Councillors of the City of Georgetown have filed legal action against the illegal waiver of property rates
which amounted to $27 million, for businessman Ganga Prasad for a property, which is located at Charlotte and Wellington Streets, Georgetown.
The Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC)has accused Local Government Minister Norman Whittaker, and acting Town Clerk Carol Sooba of waiving the rates and taxes payment of the prominent businessman, who they say did not qualify for that exemption.
The Council explained the owner of the building, Anand Prasad, applied for the tax exemption in 2012, but did not qualify. The matter ended up before the Court and Prasad was ordered to pay $10M in rates and taxes. He appealed the matter, which is still unconcluded.
Subsequently, another person, Ganga Prasad of Ganga Prasad and Sons applied for exemption on the same building, this time to Minister Whittaker. The Minister then instructed Sooba to make the exemption, but the Council was never informed.
In a bid to recover the monies, the M&CC yesterday, noted that it has instructed its lawyers to take legal action against the illegal waiver.
The M&CC says that steps have already been taken to recover the monies.
The Council has since sent a lawyer’s letter to both Minister Whittaker and the Town Clerk (Ag).
According to the letter which was issued by Attorneys’-at -Law attached to the Law Firm of Hughes, Fields and Stoby, the Minister does not have the authority to order the Town Clerk (Ag) to waive taxes.
The letter outlined that on July 16, 2014 the Minister sent correspondence to the Town Clerk; instructing that she waive rates and taxes due on the property owned by Ganga Persaud and Sons.
“Our reviews of the powers vested in you as Minister of Local Government and Regional Development does not disclose
any power which confers upon you the power to issue an order to the Town Clerk to waive outstanding taxes owed to the Municipality for the purpose set out in your letter, the correspondence stated.
The Minister is therefore, requested to identify the specific provision of the Municipal and District Council Act 2013, which empowers him to order a waiver of taxes due to the city of Georgetown.
“Minister Whittaker was given six days to respond to the letter. Failure to do so, will result in the commencement of legal proceedings against him for the recovery of financial losses, which he has caused in the City of Georgetown.”
The Council says that the evidence in their possession shows that the Minister “secretly” instructed the acting Town Clerk to exempt the businessman from paying his taxes with the permission of the Council.
On Wednesday, Mayor Hamilton Green, his Deputy and other prominent Council officials made an official police report of the matter.
When contact was made with Minister Whittaker, he admitted that he had given a “no objection” letter to Sooba last July for a $27M exemption of taxes for the Lacytown building for the period 2002-2009.
The Minister said that in the application the businessman claimed that he was offering the building to the Brazilian church for free. The Minister said that he was not aware of issues surrounding the matter and that he did not know that the Council was unaware of his instructions.
However, Deputy Mayor Patricia Chase-Greene has refuted the claims of the Minister. She noted that at the Council’s Finance Committee, in 2012, it was found that the businessman was receiving a rent from the Brazilians. It was at that same meeting, she said, that then substantive Legal Officer Carol Sooba had advised that the said businessman had not paid the $10M owed and thus could not sell the Lacytown building which he was at the time trying to do.
The officials are even more peeved after it was revealed that the building (the former Strand Cinema, now Universal Church of the Kingdom of God Inc. located at 162 Charlotte and Wellington Streets, Lacytown) was sold for several million US dollars.
Chase-Greene noted that along with interest, the new tax figure owed was over $53M. It was for this reason the Council alleges that the Minister gave the exemption.
While the Minister is adamant that under Section 212 of the Municipal and District Councils Act 2013, he has the power to give a ‘no objection’ to the exemption, the Council argues that the law cited gives the Minister no such power.
They claim that the Council as a body, is the only entity legally permitted to give such exclusion.
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