A forensic audit report of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) found that former Housing Minister, Irfaan Ali, played a critical role in the transactions of the Pradoville Two, the upscale, sea-side on the East Coast of Demerara.
The house lots of that community were developed using state funds, from a number of agencies, and then sold under the market price to several former ministers with ex-president, Bharrat Jagdeo, receiving the biggest plot.
At least two former ministers have since resold their developed properties for tens of millions of dollars in profits.
The lands were sold below what normal Guyanese would have paid per square footage for government housing lands.
The offers went to a few selected persons and were not opened to other Guyanese who would have been interested.
Guyana only learnt of the exclusive scheme after seeing a few mansions being built, including the imposing one belonging to Jagdeo.
Several hundred millions of dollars were spent to develop the scheme before the plots were sold.
The transactions have been investigated by the police’s Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) with more than 20 charges recommended for former government officials. The files have reportedly been submitted for legal advice a while now.
According to the forensic audit report, done by former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran, examinations of the transactions led to the conclusion that the project was done outside of the established procedures of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA).
Ally, who was the housing minister at the time, “piloted every aspect of the transaction without recourse to the Authority. While the Minister has considerable powers under the Housing Act, his role in the issue of titles was well outside of his functions and powers,” the damning report said.
The NICIL report said he appeared to have been willingly assisted by the then Registrar of Lands, Juliet Sattaur, who “breached or caused to be
breached the statutory and administrative procedures” for the issuing of Certificates of Title.
The report had also pointed out that the lands though sold by the CH&PA should have never happened as it belonged to the National Communications Network (NCN), another state company that controls a number of radio and television stations across the country.
CH&PA NOT EXONERATED
The NICIL report was also highly critical of the CH&PA which seemed to have had some knowledge of the transactions. “At the same time however we do not believe that the CHPA can be exonerated for having abrogated their responsibility over an extended period of time.”
It was reported that the almost 15 acres of land was valued at $1.2B but CH&PA collected a mere $40M from the former government ministers, and others who were hand-picked.
The NICIL audit report disclosed that extensive interviews were held with a number of senior persons of CH&PA including Myrna Pitt, Chief Executive Officer; Rawle Edinboro, Chief Development Officer; Taslim Baksh, Finance Director; Denise King-Tudor, Director of Operations; and. S. Ali, a Sworn Land Surveyor.
“Except for Mr. Ali who deposited the Plan, none of the persons interviewed admitted to having been involved in any direct role in the project.”
Pitt, the CEO, claimed she was not aware of any strategic objective of the project, nor was she aware of any pre-determined qualification parameters for the allocation of lots at Sparendaam. However, according to the CEO, since the housing project was nominally administered by the Authority, the standard Terms and Conditions ought to have applied.
Shockingly, as the CH&PA was concerned, there was no transaction trail for the Sparendaam project.
“The relevant transactions appear to have been systematically excluded from the authority’s records with the instructions coming directly from the Minister Mr. Irfaan Ali. The decision to allocate the lots appears to have been made in 2010, but both the CH&PA and NICIL disclaimed any role in the allocation of lots. There was no evidence of any application made to CHPA nor was the Authority able to produce Sale and Purchase Agreements signed by the allottees.”
The story got even worse.
Despite, CH&PA not owning the lands that were sold to the persons, they willingly overlooked this fact, in accepting payments for the lands. The development of the land was done by NICIL. Sitting at NICIL as the head was Winston Brassington, a controversial official who is facing charges for other state lands that he sold.
“There is no indication that the CH&PA raised any questions about the project even as its staff performed functions in relation to the project under instructions from the Minister of Housing,” the NICIL report charged.
“Moreover CHPA received the proceeds and banked them into its account, so it is disingenuous for the CHPA to wash its hands of processes that clearly violated all the rules under which it operates.”
To compound matters, it appeared that CH&PA was kept in the dark with how the Pradoville Two scheme received electricity, a function it would perform for normal house lots.
“No files are available for any of the allottees nor does the CHPA have any documentation other than receipts for sums paid to the CHPA.”
In fact, the report said that a separate forensic audit report, prepared by Ram & McRae, found that Minister Ali personally handled the application and the Certificates of Title for the lots at Sparendaam/Goedverwagting by directing a senior CH&PA Conveyancing Officer to take sealed envelopes to the Registrar of Lands, Ms. Juliet Sattaur.
“Our inquiries also revealed that sealed envelopes, presumably containing Certificates of Title were collected by the Senior Conveyancing Officer from the Registry of Lands and taken directly to the Minister.”
To strengthen the case that Ali played a strategic role in handling the transactions, the report said that former army chief, Rear Admiral (Retired) Gary Best, who bought a piece of the land, disclosed that he collected the title to his lot direct from the Minister of Housing.
“It is unclear why the Minister, who is responsible for directing CHPA policy, should be actively involved in a routine operational matter such as the preparation and distribution of certificates of title. We were unable to determine the process involved in the allocation of the house lots, with both NICIL and CH&PA claiming that they were not involved in the application process, the setting of the price per house.”
The NICIL audit report said that from interviews held, it led the interviewers to believe that the identification of persons for house lots and the price per lot were determined by the then Cabinet, led by Jagdeo, or at the very least, a sub-committee of Cabinet.
At the Ministry of the Presidency, when the new Government took office, there were no records there of the transactions of Pradoville Two.
“There is a similar absence of records at the CHPA and the Land Registry despite the practice, and indeed the absolute necessity, for these two statutory bodies to maintain records of these transactions.”
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