Oct 29, 2015 News
…you cannot use Public Office to rob the State—AG Williams
The 99-year lease that governs the use of land on which sits the heritage building known as Red House will be quashed. Government is also looking to have the building used to commemorate not just one former President, the Late Cheddi Jagan.
This is the position of the A Partnership for National Unity plus Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) Government, according to Attorney General, Basil Williams.
He did say that government was looking to have the matter between the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) and the new government resolved. He spoke of a meeting between the PPP and himself on the matter.
Williams was adamant that the land on which Red House sits, has to be returned to the State.
On the matter of the actual building, Williams said it ought not to be used only for the Late President Dr. Jagan. “We have other past Presidents.”
Not wanting to speak specifically on whether criminal charges would be laid, Williams suggested a settlement of some sort, but is adamant that what transpired in relation to leasing Red House lands to the PPP was in fact unlawful.
Asked if none will be held responsible, Williams denied that this was his position but repeatedly referenced a possible use of Guyana’s plea bargaining legislation in order to have the matter resolved.
He decried the lease, saying that it was in fact a device used to “hide from the eyes of equity, the true nature of the transaction.”
Williams posited that it was in fact a de facto giveaway of the land, since a 99-year lease is akin to transport.
“If you had to do a transport for a 99 year lease for that kind of property you are talking about tens of millions of dollars,” said Williams.
The Attorney General told media operatives that the previous administration used the guise of a lease, “and charged a peppercorn rent.”
He was adamant that the act constitutes an illegality and misfeasance in public office. “Because you are in an Office, a Public Office and you are under a duty to exercise your functions for the benefit of the country, for the citizens of the country.”
He was adamant, “You cannot use (Public) Office to rob the State.”
Williams suggested that if the value of the land is in the tens of millions and “you have some device where you alienate that land to another for a couple thousand dollars, then obviously it’s an unlawful transaction.”
Pressed to identify specifically which of Guyana’s laws would have been breached by the then PPP Government in giving itself a lease on the land for such a small sum, Williams said, “it is misconduct in public office on the criminal side and misfeasance in public office on the civil side.”
He was clear, that as long as there is evidence in support of misfeasance, then there is evidence for criminal misconduct charges.
Williams was unable to report on the reaction of the PPP to the proposals by Government that the building be used to not only commemorate just one former President.
He said the matter was still under discussion and that he did not want to prejudice the talks with the PPP.
Williams was clear, however. on the position of the administration. “Red House which is State Property cannot be used solely as a research centre for one President.”
The state of affairs came to light during the recently concluded 2015 Budget Debates and was described as “deceitful action” that sought to rob the nation of its resources.
Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, at the time told the National Assembly that the then PPP administration spent tens of millions of dollars over the years to renovate the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre (Red House) which remained state property until 2012.
During that year, ‘Cheddi Jagan Research Inc.’ was established and the building was leased by the PPP to that company.
The lease agreement has duration of 99 years at a cost of $1000 monthly.
This will add up to $12,000 per year and $1,188,000 over the 99-year period. This will not be even a quarter of what was spent to build, renovate and maintain the building over the years.
Apart from this, Harmon said that the entity’s staff remained on the job and were still being paid by the State.
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