Oct 15, 2015 News
SARU: “There is a direct link between the misconduct and the abuse, of powers and duties of their position. The former cabinet members knew they were doing a wrong in transferring state lands into their names and that of their acquaintances for undervalued market prices for the land.”
Former President, Bharrat Jagdeo, and several of his Cabinet Ministers who benefitted from the Pradoville Two housing scheme back in 2010 are likely to face criminal charges, following a damning report completed this week by the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU).
SARU’s report noted that in 2010, the Bharrat Jagdeo Cabinet made a decision authorizing the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) to privatize state lands. NICIL is the body tasked with overseeing the privatization of state assets.
It reportedly spent more than $200M to develop the seaside community without the knowledge and blessings of the National Assembly and other relevant bodies.
The said lands were then secretly sold to the former ministers and known friends and associates of the previous regime.
At the time of the sale, the report said, the lands were grossly undervalued and sold substantially lower than the market value for the land thereby depriving the state of its full benefits.
Jagdeo himself paid only $9.8M, giving himself two acres of lands that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean.
SARU argued that the former Ministers could be held liable for misconduct in public office and in the absence of legislation for the unit, that the Attorney General, Basil Williams, may institute proceedings against the former Ministers.
The unit said that the actions of the former cabinet Ministers have shown that they willfully neglected to perform their duties without reasonable excuse or justification to such an extent that it amounted to an abuse of the public trust in the office holders, hence its belief that criminal charges are indeed warranted.
The report cited several court cases regarding public officials as its basis for recommending that criminal charges be brought.
Providing a brief history of the nature of the Pradoville Two deal, SARU reported that Tract A of Sparendaam, East Coast Demerara was once deemed as Communal Lands, thereafter owned by Demerara Sugar Estates prior to independence.
After independence, it said that this plot of land was owned by the State of Guyana. The land remained state lands until 2010 when the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA) privatized the land and sold it to the former Ministers and associates of the former regime.
In 2010, Jagdeo was sold 1.5 acres of land, Block III, Parcel 246 Lot 246 Plantation Goedverwagting and 0.4603 acres, Block III, Parcel 241.
Former Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud, was sold Lot 239 Goedverwagting, Block III, which is 0.3030 acres. The report noted that on September 20, 2011 the land was transferred to Kamini Persaud and Robert Persaud Jnr. The land with the house was then sold on September 18, 2014 to LSR Inc. Company for $90M. LSR’s public records indicate that its Secretary and Director is Andrew Pollard.
Also benefitting was former Public Service Minister, Dr. Jennifer Westford, who was sold a Lot 238 Goedverwagting, Block III; former Education Minister, Priya Manickchand, was sold Block IV, parcel, 176. She later sold the property to one Dave Naraine on February 21, 2013 for $100M.
Other beneficiaries included Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack; former Head of the Private Sector Commission (PSC), Ramesh Dookoo; former Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon; PPP General Secretary and former Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee; former Labour Minister, Dr. Nanda Gopaul and Lisaveta Valantina Ramotar, daughter of the former President, Donald Ramotar.
The lands were transferred to the persons above on various conditions- one of which included that the transferee shall not be at liberty to sell, lease, transfer or part with possession of the said property within ten years of transfer without the written consent of the Minister responsible for Housing.
According to the SARU report, however, Manickchand sold her land three years after purchasing it and she did so without written permission from the CH&PA, thereby breaching the conditions. Persaud also breached the conditions, SARU said.
A source close to Manickchand said that there is nothing in Manickchand’s lease that prohibited her from selling her property within ten years.
Given the history and nature of the deal, SARU, believed that it has a strong case for the former Ministers to be charged with misconduct in public office.
SARU said, “There is a direct link between the misconduct and the abuse, of powers and duties of their position. The former Cabinet members knew they were doing a wrong in transferring state lands into their names and that of their acquaintances for undervalued market prices for the land. The lands were sold for $114 per square foot at the time.”
“Public officers ought to carry out their duties not for the benefit of themselves but for the benefit of the public as a whole. If they neglect or misconduct themselves by their actions in the course of their duties this may lead to a breach or abuse of the public’s trust. The act of the cabinet members for their benefit is serious enough to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust.”
SARU added that former President Bharrat Jagdeo would not be exempt from the charges.
The Pradoville Two transaction had drawn widespread criticisms from the public after the details came to light.
While Jagdeo and other beneficiaries paid $114 per square foot for the lands, ordinary Guyanese were made to $317 by CH&PA.
Remigrants, who were encouraged to come back and live in Guyana, paid more than ten times the price Jagdeo paid for the same size house lot. They paid $1,111 per square foot.
To make way for the Pradoville Two scheme, Jagdeo and his Cabinet spent more than $100M to remove a transmitting tower of the National Communications Network.
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