-Gouveia denies any role in decision-making sale process
Investigators of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) are making progress with several
probes relating to questionable transactions of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL).
At least 10 files are now being studied by the Police Legal Advisor, Justice (retd) Claudette Singh, SOCU officials said Friday. SOCU is an arm of the police that has been focusing especially on money laundering.
NICIL is the controversial state agency that, under previous governments of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), privatised and sold several state-owned properties. It was involved in a number of large scale investments.
There have been several allegations of impropriety involving those sales and transfers of properties.
Sources close to SOCU disclosed that among the 10 files, are those for the sale of two Duke Street, Kingston properties to businessman, Captain Gerry Gouveia.
“I can tell you that the Police Legal Advisor has the Duke Street property files and about eight others and we are awaiting the advice on the way forward,” the official disclosed.
The other files include the sale of lands at Liliendaal to National Hardware; the Sanata Complex sale to Queens Atlantic Investments Inc. (QAII); the transfer of lands at Turkeyen to Multi Cinema Guyana Inc.; properties at Farm, East Bank Demerara and New Amsterdam; the transaction involving the GPC offices at La Penitence; the Kingston land sale for the Corporate Head Office of the Guyana Bank For Trade and Industry; sale of lands at Ruimveldt to Twins Manufacturing, and sale of a plot of land at Lot 30 Seafield, Leonora.
The Duke Lodge properties sales by NICIL’s sister arm- the Privatisation Unit (PU)- have been making the news lately with indications that Gouveia, a board member of the latter, bought two state properties in the Kingston area while being a board member.
PU’s online listing of board members records the businessman as sitting as a private sector representative and director on PU’s board since 2008. He reportedly remained after the Coalition Government took office in 2015.
Reports by Kaieteur News last week suggested that the businessman, who has interests in the aviation and tourism sector, did not recuse himself from the board meetings that considered the land sale.
There were immediate questions last week about a possible conflict of interest situation.
Based on NICIL/PU online records of properties sold by that state entity, not one, but two properties were sold during the first two years of Gouveia’s stint as a director.
Gouveia’s stint as a director is confirmed by online records of the NICIL/PU’s website: http://www.privatisation.gov.gy/
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, according to a publication titled “Privatisation In Tables”-Phase 11- 1993-2011. The report was prepared by Winston Brassington, Executive Secretary of PU, in 2012.
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.
The same report by Brassington said that 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 2009, the transaction was completed.
The investigations by SOCU stemmed from the findings of a forensic audit report ordered by the administration into the operations of NICIL/PU.
The sale of the second property raised alarm and brought more attention to NICIL/PU, the state agency which has been handling the privatization and investments for Government.
With regards to the transactions to Gouveia, 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.
Brassington, who investigators want to question in Guyana, has moved to Florida.
The sale of the second property to Gouveia, located across the road from the US embassy, 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.
Yesterday, Gouveia issued a statement via his company, Roraima Airways, responding to the Kaieteur News articles last week.
This is what he had to say:
Roraima Airways Chief Executive Officer Capt. Gerry Gouveia and the company as a whole have noted with interest two articles published in the Tuesday June 20 issue (“headlined “Controversial sale of Duke street annexe to Gouviea…No evidence that Board member Gouveia recused himself from transaction) and Wednesday June 21 (headlined Questionable transactions by privatization unit….Gouviea gets two state properties during his first year as Director”).
Both articles contain profound inaccuracies and innuendos
With respect to the conflict of interest assertion contained in the June 20 and June 21st Kaieteur news article, we wanted to firmly state the following:
-Captain Gouviea was not a member of the Privatization Board during the period covering the transactions associated with the purchase of the property located at 94 Duke Street, housing what is now the Roraima Duke Lodge
-It is also important to state that there were nine other bidders and Roraima Airways Bid was the highest.
-The bids were opened in the presence of all of the other bidders and officials of the Accountant General’s office.
-Capt. Gouveia himself was never present nor was he part of any discussion with the Board of the Privatization Unit during all of the proceedings associated with the sale of the property situated at Lot 93 Duke Street, Kingston.
-The processes associated with the sale of the aforementioned properties were certainly not handled expeditiously. In fact, it took approximately two years in the first instance and one year, in the second instance, to fully conclude the transactions.
-Roraima Airways won the public bid/Tender for the second building on the merit of its business plan proposal and the final price that was paid of 50,000,000 GYD plus VAT of 8,000,000 GYD.
Today approximately one decade since the properties were acquired, both buildings were renovated and today house hotel rooms, conference facilities, a restaurant and bar and other facilities which contribute to enhancing Guyana’s tourism product.
Most important, the two buildings which today make up Duke Lodge account for some 100 direct jobs and hundreds more indirect jobs which have been created on the basis of fair hiring practices and without any regard to race, gender, religion or political affiliation.
Today, the integrated services of the Roraima Group of Companies account for almost 300 direct jobs.
The Roraima Group of Companies remains committed to contributing to the development of Guyana and to maintaining its track record of being among the best corporate citizens of Guyana. (SIC)
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