A scoping mission from the World Bank which specializes in state asset recovery initiatives has arrived in
Guyana. After meeting with various persons attached to the Government, an agreement has been reached that the mission will meet relevant agencies in Guyana to garner the necessary information it would need to craft its action plan for the State Asset Recovery Unit (SARU).
Once completed, the World Bank team will present its action plan to SARU on March 28.
This was revealed during a post Cabinet press conference which was held yesterday at the Ministry of the Presidency. Minister of State, Joseph Harmon said that in the meantime, the members of the international team will continue to meet with members of the Government, civil society and the judiciary.
SARU made the significant step to garner the support of the United Nations and the World Bank in the fight against corruption in Guyana last year.
SARU’s head, Dr. Clive Thomas, recalled that efforts were being made to get both entities on board through their joint programme called the State Assets Recovery Initiative. He said that after a few discussions, the World Bank and the United Nations decided to come on board based on their own concerns regarding the state of corruption in Guyana.
“We had a number of meetings with them so far and they said that they would be coming to provide technical assistance for us. This is the biggest step for us in terms of international partners and it signals that the international community wants to see us get our act together. With their presence here in Guyana, there is no way that certain PPP wrongdoers could think they will get off the hook,” the economist said.
Additionally, Thomas recalled that the draft legislation for his department is finally completed. More importantly, he said that it has been given the blessings of international asset recovery and fraud specialists.
The economist hopes that the legislation will be taken to Parliament in a timely manner, at least by the earliest sitting of the National Assembly next year.
He had said, “I am happy that this is finally finished. The experts made some extremely useful inputs to the draft legislation in terms of how we are to strengthen our security and how prosecution should be handled. The draft Bill also sees SARU getting the sort of legal backing that it needs when it comes to certain fraud cases.”
“More importantly, I must say that the work of the department under the Ministry of the Presidency is moving along effectively but there are those who feel we are toothless poodles and all sorts of things. These comments come particularly from the opposition.”
“I am not surprised that they are opposed to us. But let me make it clear, the international community and this coalition government understand the importance of this department and they continue to encourage us with our work. SARU has an important responsibility, being the protector against the misuse of state assets.”
“This agency is not going to let anyone who was involved in that ring get away. The full extent of the law shall be there to hold them. And it is for this reason that the Opposition makes `certain comments about us and has a hateful disposition towards us. It is nothing but fear. They fear such an agency being strengthened because they know that we are not going to tolerate the corruption that they got away with,” said Dr. Thomas.
Dr. Thomas had also expressed sincere appreciation for the help being extended by Mr. Brian Horne, a specialist from the United Kingdom.
Mr. Horne, who is a Guyanese by birth, has spent most of his life in the United Kingdom. He has worked in more than 22 countries in the field of the recovery of state assets and the successful prosecution of the defaulters.
Once the draft legislation receives the blessings of the House and the assent of President David Granger, Dr. Thomas had said that the entity will be renamed the State Asset Recovery Agency.
SARU has handled one of the most controversial cases which involve the fraudulent sale of state land under the previous regime otherwise known as the “Pradoville Two scandal.”
The Ministry of Housing had called on the Recovery Unit to investigate the ‘Pradoville Two’ deal. Minister within the Ministry of Communities, Keith Scott, had disclosed that the area situated at Parcel 172 Plantation Sparendaam and Parcel 237 Plantation Goedverwagting, known by citizens as Pradoville 2, was “mutated” and sold, subject to a Cabinet decision.
It was done under the Bharrat Jagdeo administration. Jagdeo’s last term in office ended in 2011.
The state-owned NICIL/Privatisation Unit was authorized to do all acts necessary to ensure the vesting of the new development project in the CH&PA, the body which is tasked with overseeing housing developments in Guyana.
NICIL/Privatisation Unit was headed by Winston Brassington, an executive who oversaw a number of contentious multi-billion-dollar public infrastructure deals.
According to Scott, the allocation of parcels of land to several former ministers, senior Government officials and friends close to the PPP administration, and the method to determine the prices paid, were not assessed by the CH&PA.
He said that CH&PA seemed not to have been in the loop. The infrastructural works were contracted to Atlantic Construction by NICIL/Privatisation Unit.
NICIL reportedly also spent tens of millions of dollars to build roads, drains and culverts, and to lay pipelines and in some cases, underground power cables. The developed house lots, complete with infrastructure, were then sold to Jagdeo, several ministers and Government officials and friends. There is no evidence that the house lots sale was advertised or what procedures were used in the allocations of the parcels of the ocean-front properties.
Jagdeo himself, according to details of allocations, received two parcels equivalent to two acres. On it, he built an imposing mansion, complete with pool and overlooking the seawall and the Atlantic Ocean. He paid a total of $9.8M. He had owned a property along the Ogle Airport Road in the community that was known as ‘Pradoville One’. However, he reportedly sold that property to Trinidadian advertising executive, Ernie Ross.
It was determined that Jagdeo essentially paid one-third of what ordinary citizens in the Diamond and Grove Housing Schemes, East Bank Demerara, would have been required to fork out. Jagdeo’s payment for the Pradoville Two parcels translated to $5M per acre which works out at $114 per square foot; the ordinary man pays $317 per square foot for his plot.
The sale of the Pradoville Two house lots for such a low price would contrast starkly with what remigrants had to pay under the Government’s scheme for returning to Guyana. Remigrants paid more than ten times the price Jagdeo paid for the same size house lot. They paid $1,111 per square foot.
A detailed report on the matter has since been prepared by SARU, handed over to the police, and is still being investigated.
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