Mar 29, 2016 News
– BaiShanLin was willing to pay US$8M despite knowing BK got it for $458M
A criminal investigation at this time into how hundreds of acres of prime state lands managed to be parceled
out into the hands of few, under the previous administration, would be more than welcome, a senior Government official said yesterday.
Minister of National Security, Khemraj Ramjattan, who while in the Opposition was vocal about how the lands were being handled, noted that in the past, he had asked about the transactions during the National Assembly.
“I have read your reports on the audit reports and on the East Bank housing. I do believe, and I will repeat what I said then…that we need to have a better understanding of what transpired under the stewardship of Housing Minister, Irfaan Ali, and his Government.”
Ramjattan, who is the leader of the Alliance For Change (AFC), which forms part of the coalition Government, disclosed that he has also seen reports that businessman, Brian Tiwarie, weeks after signing the agreement of sale with the Central Housing and Planning Authority in February 2014, turning around and selling his land for three times more than he paid for it.
“An investigation into the lands, hundreds of acres of it worth billions of dollars, should be launched. We are talking about 25,000 applications on file for house lots. People are desperate for land.”
Asked about the appointment of Tiwarie as a Ministerial Advisor on Business Development, which came to light Monday via a report in Kaieteur News, Ramjattan said that he was not aware of it until he read it.
Asked whether it should not have been made by the Minister of Business, Dominic Gaskin, instead of Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, Ramjattan admitted that “certainly” the latter suggestion would have been the ideal situation.
However, he refused to be drawn into further comment.
The East Bank Demerara lands, according to the PPP/C, were given out to private developers to build infrastructure and homes for sale.
However, many of the 20-off developers have failed to meet deadlines. Many of the plots have remained under bushes with works stalled on quite a few.
In the case of Tiwarie, he was written to in 2011, indicating that a 100-acre plot of land behind Providence Stadium was earmarked for his company, Sunset Lakes Inc.
However, the agreement of sale between him and the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) was not sealed until three years later, in February 2014. The delay was never explained.
The 100-acre plot was sold for $458M, less than the $471M that he had been told to pay three years earlier.
The transaction became even weirder. Two months after that agreement of sale with CH&PA,
Tiwarie’s company, Sunset Lakes, turned around and sold the land to Chu Hongbo, the local principal of BaiShanLin Forest Development for a whopping US$8M.
The logger, however, failed to come through with his promises to develop the lands. A few unfinished structures and a fence are all that is there now.
Chu Hongbo and his companies- there are several of them that he has registered- are now in deep financial
trouble and have been ordered to halt log exports. The company has received hundreds of millions of dollars in duty free concessions, tax breaks and other benefits.
Tiwarie earlier this year sued Chu Hongbo saying he failed to pay a balance of US$4M.
The contractor now wants back the lands, wants the advance of US$4M forfeited, and another US$4M in interest. Tiwarie is also demanding $50M in damages for breach of the agreement.
Tiwarie has also blocked Chu Hongbo from committing the lands to Citizens Bank for a debenture.
According to the agreement that Tiwarie had with Chu Hongbo, the latter was very much aware at the time of its agreement that Sunset Lakes only paid $117M of the $458M that CH&PA charged.
Yet the logger agreed that he should pay the US$8M – or more than three and a half times the amount.
Tiwarie, who was close to the previous administration, joined ranks with new David Granger administration last year, and began assisting with the Brickdam cleanup for the May 26, 2015 celebrations and inauguration.
The CH&PA transaction in 2014 would be a mere indication of the amount of money at stake when it came to the lands on East Bank Demerara.
CH&PA reportedly had no official notice that the company had been sold. Rather, Sunset Lakes was introduced as a joint venture partner.
As a matter of fact, Tiwarie wanted the matter to be kept quiet. In September last year, he wrote a local newspaper that is closely associated to the ex-minister Ali and insisted that he is the still the owner of Sunset Lake.
He said that he is currently constructing four homes and that two were almost complete. There was no mention of the 100 percent sale of shares of Sunset Lakes to Chu Hongbo in that article attributed to Tiwarie.
A number of other developers, like BK, have reportedly sold their plots, but those transactions will be illegal as CH&PA’s agreements are specific—the developers are to build homes, not sell the lands or sell house lots.
CH&PA under pressure
The Sunset Lakes transaction would continue to raise alarming questions about CH&PA, which oversees the state’s housing programmes.
The deals, signed under the previous Government of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic, have been angering state officials and citizens alike, for a simple reason. There are more than 25,000 applications for house lots in the database of the CH&PA.
There are few plots of land for housing remaining in the East Demerara area. The new Government is under pressure to find new lands.
Between 2011 and 2015, hundreds of acres of prime lands were parceled off and sold to private developers by CH&PA.
Many of them breached conditions by failing to build within the stipulated time. Instead they were selling off lands as house lots, instead of constructing homes. CH&PA paid little attention to what the developers were doing.
Shortly after the David Granger administration took office last year, senior housing officials paid surprise inspection visits to lands stretching from Eccles to Golden Grove, East Bank Demerara. These lands went to two dozen developers.
The inspection team found little activities on the lands. The developers were hauled in for a meeting and given a February 2016 deadline to complete infrastructural works.
However, not much progress has been made. There were questions itself about some of the developers.
One of them is Luxury Realty, whose Director, Ravie Ramcharitar, is also a senior official in Queens Atlantic Investment Inc. That company is controlled by Dr. Ranjisinghi ‘Bobby’ Ramroop, the best friend of the ex-President Bharrat Jagdeo.
Luxury Realty benefitted from 28.8 acres of prime lands at Providence, but has done little since receiving the lands in December 2013.
Another person who benefitted was Mohamed ‘Arafat’ Qualander, one of the owners of Queensway, a Water Street business.
In November 2011, three days before General Elections, he signed a deal with CH&PA for 35 acres of land behind Golden Grove. He paid $500,000 per acre. He is a close friend of former President, Donald Ramotar.
At the time, CH&PA was headed by former PPP/C Minister of Housing, Irfaan Ali.
Under his watch, the ‘Remigrant’ housing scheme was launched but its administration and who really received lands from the CH&PA are now being investigated.
Reportedly, the current CH&PA Board of Directors, headed by City Mayor, Hamilton Green, has launched a number of investigations in several transactions by the entity.
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