Jun 29, 2019 News
Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC), Trevor Benn, made strong refutations to the claims made by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo that there was a massive land-grabbing scheme during the six months following the No Confidence Motion.
For several months, the Opposition Leader has been making unfounded claims about land giveaways, but he brought illustrations with him, last Thursday. Those illustrations in Jagdeo’s possession are, according to Benn, stolen, because there are no records showing that they were requested or paid for.
Benn indicated to the press that the police are expected to mount an investigation to determine the nature of the acquisition of those documents. Staffers of the commission are likely to be implicated in that investigation.
Benn stated yesterday that the persons who are complicit in corruption are known, and that the commission will take action according to police findings.
The Opposition Leader made a series of accusations of several persons, whom he claimed are affiliated with government, providing varying amounts of details on each case. (Further details on those accusations can be read in our June 28, 2019 edition or online, under the headline: “Jagdeo claims massive land giveaway, Lands and Survey refutes it”.)
After the allegations were made, Benn had responded swiftly, labeling Jagdeo’s claims as misinformation.
During a press conference yesterday, he sought to refute the claims made by Jagdeo, and to provide information as liberally as his clients would allow.
In addressing the claims, he noted that he could not have spoken on every single claim Jagdeo made, since the confidentiality of those persons must be respected. But of the details given, he explained that those individuals had already contacted the commission, granting permission for the information to be shared.
First, he addressed Jagdeo’s claim of lands being allocated to Special Assistant to the State Assets Recovery Agency (SARA), Eric Phillips.
“I want to say very clearly that, as Commissioner, I had nothing to do with the approval of Mr. Eric Phillips’ lands. It came long before my time.”
In a release, Phillips has indicated that he will file a complaint with the police, because the manner in which the Opposition Leader obtained his file from GLSC is “criminal”.
On Jagdeo’s claim of Keith Lowenfield, Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM)’s Chief Elections Officer, being allocated lands, Benn said that he was given permission to say that the application in question included four persons; that it was headed by Charles Ceres, not Lowenfield. Jagdeo had said that he hopes Lowenfield wasn’t granted lands to influence him to act unfairly in his capacity at GECOM. Benn said that Lowenfield’s name was conveniently the only one featured by Jagdeo on that particular tract, because the Opposition Leader was politically motivated to present it that way.
He went on to state that the application was filed by the Commission for that tract in 2004, and that it was also approved before this current government assumed office. Kaieteur News is in possession of documents provided by Charles Ceres which prove these statements to be true.
Benn said that the only thing he did was to have the already approved allocation issued.
He added that Lowenfield has also indicated that he wants to have a lease granted for another area and that request is being acquiesced to.
Of Jagdeo’s mention of Charles Ceres, Benn gave brief details on his allocations. Jagdeo had attempted to link Ceres to the President by saying that his wife, Ndibi Schwiers, works at the Department of the Environment, under the Ministry of the Presidency.
Benn said that Schwiers has no interest in the land mentioned, and that whether she’s married to Ceres is unnecessary. He asserted that it is unfortunate that someone like the Opposition Leader would attempt to drag a good person’s name through the mud for political gain.
But it was Ceres who showed up nearing the end of the press conference to refute Jagdeo’s claims. The Opposition Leader had made the claim that Ceres got four separate allocations. Ceres said that he only received two tracts of land. One of those is of 1297.12 acres in the Canje Creek and 4.5 acres at Liliendaal, Turkeyen. He provided documents to verify his claims of those lands.
In his address to the press, Ceres made several accusations against Jagdeo and former President Donald Ramotar about land allocations done in his time as President. He also said that he will be taking the Opposition Leader to court to force a retraction of his statements.
(More on that matter is detailed in another article on page 7 of this edition titled “Charles Ceres to take Jagdeo to Court”).
Next, the Commissioner referred to Maria Allen, someone who he said was allocated 2,912 acres of land. Benn provided that Allen had acquired the land in the 1980s, but the lands were taken from her under the previous administration. Because of that, Benn said that Allen had gone to court to have the lands re-issued to her, and won. Benn added that, when the court ordered the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government to return the lands to her in 1996, the government refused. He said that all that he, as Commissioner, did was to have those lands issued to Allen, as the court had ordered.
UNNAMED EX-PNC MP
The situation is quite similar for another person, who Jagdeo described as an ex People’s National Congress (PNC) Member of Parliament. Benn also declined to name the individual, but said that, like Allen, the PPP government took two tracts of land – 6,400 acres and 1,200 acres – and when it was challenged, the court ordered the lands returned. He said that the government had refused to return the lands, and that all he did recently was to have the already approved lands issued to the rightful client.
Benn did not provide details on Jagdeo’s mention of SARA Deputy Director, Aubrey Heath-Retemyer. Kaieteur News contacted Retemyer after the Opposition Leader’s claims. While Jagdeo said he got possession of 10 acres on the Soesdyke-Linden Highway and one acre at Mocha, Retemyer said that he had applied for land in 2014 during Donald Ramotar’s presidency, and that it was approved in 2017.
Yesterday, Heath-Retemyer showed Kaieteur News the documents of proof of those claims. Those 10 acres at Yarrowkabra, according to the lease document (File 411212/22B), were approved on December 6, 2017, not in the last six months as the Opposition Leader had presented.
Heath-Retemyer showed Kaieteur News two separate lease documents, for which the total area amounts to less than two acres.
The Opposition Leader had also made a claim that several tracts of land were allocated in key positions where shore base facilities could be constructed. When asked whether the persons in possession of those tracts indicated the desire to utilise the lands for those purposes, he said that they didn’t.
Commissioner Benn went on to bring up the longstanding issue of lands being allocated by the former PPP government at startlingly low prices. Ceres, in his address to the press, detailed many of those issues.
Benn had also said that Guyanese people from all walks of life are allocated land but that the persons named by the Opposition Leader seem to carry a certain description, but he did not elaborate.
Ceres stated that Jagdeo’s utterances are racist, and that that is shown in his selection of a series of only African-Guyanese recipients of the land. That opinion was echoed by Eric Phillips.
The Commissioner, in the latter part of his address, said that constant irresponsible attacks on the Commission by persons in public office result in threats being doled out to him on a regular basis. In some instances, Benn said that he is even accosted by persons who are not happy with their business with the commission.
He said, candidly, “I fear for my life.” But what he was keen to note to the public is that he is not buyable, and that he will make every effort to stamp out corruption at GLSC.
Jagdeo will make ayo sell ayo bodies to feed ya’ll pickney.
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