There are more alarming questions over the sale of two Duke Street, Kingston, properties by a
privatization arm of Government between 2008-2009.
One day after documents of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited/Privatisation Unit (NICIL/PU), indicated strong elements of a conflict of interest situation, it has been found that not one, but two properties were sold during the first two years of businessman, Captain Gerald Gouveia’s stint as a director.
According to records, the businessman was a private sector representative on the Privatisation Unit in 2008.
During that first year, as a director of PU, his board approved a sale of the iconic Duke Lodge, located on 94 Duke Street. It was sold to Roraima Airways Inc., Captain Gouveia’s company, for $140M.
While the property was advertised between May and June 2007, it was not until October 2008 that the board approved the sale. That same month, the Cabinet of Ministers under former President Bharrat Jagdeo, green-lighted the transaction.
The sale was completed in March 2009.
Three months later, in June 2009, PU advertised for the sale of the next door property, Lot 93 Duke Street.
Gouveia was again a member of the board when it approved the sale in July 2009 to his company. He had reportedly placed a bid in for $43M. By December of 2009, the transaction was completed.
Remarkably, it seemed the sales of the two properties were hurried through, based on the timelines.
The transaction has been raising eyebrows not only because of the obvious conflict of interest
for Gouveia, but the fact that no evidence is being seen that he recused himself during the board meetings that considered the sale.
The matter is one of several that is reportedly engaging the police now, based on the findings of a forensic audit report ordered by the administration into the operations of NICIL/PU.
The sale of the second property had raised alarm and brought more attention to NICIL/PU, the state agency which has been handling the privatization and investments for Government.
Among the project handled by NICIL was the Pradoville Two scheme, the Berbice River Bridge and the Marriott Hotel.
The coalition government, while in Opposition, had vowed to investigate NICIL and its privatization arm, PU.
With regards to the transactions to Gouveia, a private sector official who has interests in hotels, tourism and aviation, sitting with him on the PU board back in 2009 were former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh; former Minister of Trade, Manniram Prashad; former Agriculture Minister, Robert Persaud; consumer advocate, Pat Dial; union official, Grantley Culbard and NICIL’s executive Director, Winston Brassington.
The sale of the second property, located across the road from the US embassy, had made headlines, not only because of its prime location and the seemingly low price paid, but also the circumstances in which the decision was taken by Brassington and the then People’s Progressive Party/Civic, Government.
In July 2009, Cabinet approved the sale of the said property to the late real estate broker, Anthony Reid, for the sum of $63M plus VAT.
According to news report, a notice of bid approval was sent to Reid in July notifying him of the decision. However, Reid on August 10, 2009, withdrew his bid, which left another company, El Dorado Trading, with the next highest bid of $49.5M.
However, the property, despite protests from the El Dorado, was sold to Gouveia, who was a board member, and had reportedly placed a bid for $43M.
Kaieteur News was told that lawyers for other bidders filed protests with NICIL/PU but in vain.
The matter had engaged the attention of several critics, including former PPP executive and House Speaker, Ralph Ramkarran.
The blogger noted that the Procurement Act has made it clear that: “There shall be no negotiation between the procuring entity and any of the bidders.”
There had been indications that NICIL/PU conducted negotiations with Gouveia, in breach of strict procurement rules.
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