A decision to sell a Water Street wharf to businessman, Brian ‘BK’ Tiwari, days before the March 2nd elections is emerging as a bitter fight now.
The People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) made it clear yesterday that it remains deeply suspicious of the transaction and whether Guyana received value for its money.
The wharf has been in the possession of BK International Inc. for over a decade. It is an area that belonged to the entity once known as the Guyana Rice Board (GRB).
However, after a suspicious fire, it was leased to BK by the state’s National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL)/Privatisation Unit.
Yesterday, former Junior Finance Minister, Juan Edghill, stated that Guyana will have to start way back when the Coalition Government was defeated on December 21st, 2018 by a no-confidence motion.
“As a caretaker government – this was underscored by the Caribbean Court of Justice – it had limited powers. It basically gifted this parcel to land to a known financial supporter, while it obviously could not do so. In fact, it was preparing for elections.”
According to Edghill, the property now would be worth tens of millions of dollars because of the evolving oil and gas industry.
In fact, between Stabroek Market and Kingston, it may very well be the only available riverfront property.
“…and for the ordinary man, that is a golden handshake to BK Marine. The second disturbing thing, even if is a legitimate transaction, why was there no public notice, and no public invitation or competition bidding? How are we to be assured that there was value for money in the transaction and that Guyana got a good deal?”
According to the former parliamentarian, it would be instructive to note that it was the Coalition Government which established a State Assets Recovery Agency, “with a claim that previous administrations gave away from lands below market value. They stand to be judged by that same principle.”
According to Edghill, the transaction is vulgar and reeks of mindset that has no decency and characterizes the Coalition.
“It certainly is a matter to be investigated when PPP/C takes office…along with countless other transactions we are discovering.”
Meanwhile, the transaction was defended by Lincoln Lewis, a trade union representative that once sat on the Privatisation Unit board of directors when it was being considered to be leased.
According to Lewis, the property in question was put up by the Bharrat Jagdeo government, prior to 2011 for sale.
“That property which is located in Water Street was the former Guyana Rice Board wharf which was burnt down through questionable circumstance during the life of the PPP government. Among the bids for that property was one from BK International.
Lewis explained yesterday that Winston Brassington, the former Executive Director of NICIL/PU, recommended at the meeting another company the property must be given to.
“That company proposed by Brassington was registered at Phagoo Store in Regent Street and had no track record with any business. I objected, because I looked at the proposal of that company, BK International and others, and found BK’s proposal to be superior, satisfying the many requirements demanded by PPP/C government.”
Lewis said that at the time, he was supported by other members of the board to favourably look at the BK proposal.
“The entire board, appointed by the PPP/C government, agreed we will recommend to Cabinet the property will go to BK. Let me make it very clear, I never knew Brian Tiwari (main principal of BK Marine) at the time, but met him subsequently at the funeral of Mr. Lewis, the original owner of Water Chris Hotel.”
The trade unionist said that what is instructive about the PPP/C is that that government took time in making sure the final and legal transfer of these properties were never brought to finality.
“The reason behind this behaviour is that if for any reason whenever one wants to approach the bank or third party to be involved in any business, it will require permission from the government to do so. As such, if the person to whom the property is given should take a position that conflicts with the government, the owner will never be able to get the support or comfort to do any business with a bank or third party.”
Lewis said that what the Coalition Government has done is complete what the PPP/C government started – but for whatever reason failed to do – in moving to give legal transfer to the owner.
“I sat on the Privatisation Board when BIDCO House was transferred to Gerry, Captain Gerry Gouveia, currently Chairman of the Private Sector Commission. This property, which is situated in Duke Street, Kingston, he has converted into a business called Duke Lodge. The same principle that applied for BK getting his property applied for Gerry.”
According to the Official Gazette of March 28th, 2020, the order was signed since February 26th, 2020 by Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan.
Elections were a few days later, on March 2nd.
The Transfer of Property Order to B.K. Marine Inc. of Queenstown would give the purchaser absolute title to the property. The property had been held by the state’s National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited. The notice in the Official Gazette did not give a price.
The transfer of Mud Flat lands included three properties, including erections and totaling 2.553 acres.
The transaction was earlier this week described as highly suspicious, with calls for a probe.
“This obviously smells…a couple days before elections. It is completely unacceptable,” said attorney-at-law, Christopher Ram.
Ram, also a Chartered Accountant, made it clear that the transaction would be seen by some as immoral, and not how a caretaker government should be handling the assets of the state.
“Any transactions since the CCJ ruling of last year ought to be reviewed…from a good governance stance, and of course, in the interest of protecting the assets of the state.”
Attorney-at-law Sanjeev Datadin was clear, that the transaction will not withstand scrutiny.
“This is a transaction that was done by a caretaker government. How could you enter an agreement days before elections when you are just holding on for the sake of elections? Obviously, it is a transaction that will have to be reviewed.”
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