Mar 30, 2016 News
…as East Bank housing land scandal unravels
It has been unearthed that yet another Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) transaction is one
of many that has failed to deliver as promised. The land, some 50 acres, is located aback of the Providence Police Station and New Providence, a quiet, upscale community along Mocha Road.
But five years after being allocated to Cumberland Developers Inc., not much has been done in terms of development. A bridge and gate are all that remain evident with the overgrown bushes.
Cumberland Developers Inc. is owned by contractor, Courtney Benn.
On April 28, 2011, Benn signed an agreement with the Central Housing and Planning Authority to pay $225M for the plot. The agreement does not say how many acres, unlike many of the other deals that the authority did that year with a number of developers.
Cumberland Developers paid over $62.5M as an advance and was supposed to pay $56.25M when infrastructural works were completed. A similar amount would have been paid over two months after that and the remainder of $50M on the passing of the block title.
CH&PA insisted that time was of essence in the agreement. Cumberland Developers was supposed to immediately mobilize and enter the land on the signing of the agreement and start infrastructural works. These works would include access roads, bridges, culverts, drainage, water and electricity networks.
CH&PA, in the agreement, said it must approve the designs of the homes that the developer would build and can only sell to persons who do not own other property elsewhere in Guyana. The developer was told that he would have to finance the infrastructure and the construction of the homes.
The delay of works at the plot in the possession of Cumberland is similar to that of several other developers – not much going on. Benn has done nothing to date.
Hundreds of acres between Peters Hall and Golden Grove area have been transferred to 20-odd developers, but CH&PA has failed to monitor them to ensure that the lands were utilized.
As a matter of fact some of the lands were sold en bloc, just weeks after. This was evident in the plot that was sold to contractor Brian Tiwarie, owner of Sunset Lakes.
Some 100 acres was sold to him. It was promised to him in February 2011 by CH&PA in a letter from Chief Executive Officer, Myrna Pitt.
But the agreement was only signed three years later in February 2014 – which meant that the housing authority held on the prime lands for three years.
About eight weeks later, Tiwarie sold Sunset Lakes to Chu Hongbo, a Chinese logger for a significant profit. Tiwarie was supposed to have paid $458M. He sold the land for US$8M.
Chu, however, only paid US$4M, and is now being sued by Tiwarie who wants back the lands and monies too.
Developmental works on the land have been stalled as Chu Hongbo – whose family owns BaiShanLin, a company which is under fire for its activities here- has run out of cash.
Also receiving lands were a number of others.
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. The relationship between Tiwarie and the Chinese logger appeared to have soured after the latter failed to pay and he was sent several lawyer’s letters.
Several housing developers are facing the possibility of their lands being repossessed for failing to meet deadlines. But in each case, the agreement with CH&PA is silent on what happens if the developer fails to satisfy the agreement. The issue of repossession does not arise.
A number of them, 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.
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.
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. 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.
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 into several transactions by the entity.
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