Sep 25, 2023 News
Kaieteur News – Head of the Guyana to Energy (GTE) Task Force, Winston Brassington has told the High Court that former Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Dr. Steve Surujbally is seeking an unreasonable compensation for his land acquired to facilitate the 12-inch pipeline that will pass through a portion of his land, located at Nouvelle Flanders, West Coast Demerara.
The pipeline is a component of the GTE project and is being constructed by oil giant ExxonMobil. It will transport natural gas to the Wales Development Site, West Coast Demerara to be used for electricity generation.
Dr. Surujbally had approached the Court on August 3, 2023 seeking adequate compensation for his land that was compulsorily acquired by the government to facilitate the project.
He is the third Guyanese that have mounted a legal challenge with regard to the project. Another citizen whose land would be affected as a result of the pipeline is presently before the Court while two other citizens in a separate suit are challenging the legality of the Permit granted for the project.
The former GECOM Chair told the Court that his land is valued at $100 million and believes same should be paid by the state. Dr. Surujbally, through his Lawyer, Christopher Ram, stated in the application that there were several violations of the Acquisition of Lands for Public Purposes Act, Cap. 62:05 and breaches to the Applicant’s constitutional right not to be deprived of this property without prompt payment of compensation.
They argue that Pursuant to Article 142(1) of the Constitution of Guyana, and section 7 of the Acquisition of Lands for Public Purposes Act the Applicant is entitled to prompt payment of adequate and satisfactory compensation for the compulsory acquisition of his land by the State.
In response to the claims made by Dr. Surujbally, Brassington in an Affidavit in Defence filed by the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC on September 11, 2023, said it was misleading for the Applicant to suggest that he ought to have been contacted immediately for negotiations, after the publication of an Order published on August 8, 2021 for the Acquisition of Lands for Public Purposes relative to the project.
This Order, according to Brassington was aimed at allowing officials of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC) to enter upon lands “for the purpose of surveying, save and except cadastral surveys, or otherwise examining the lands.”
He went on to note that of the 2.005 acres of land owned by Dr. Surujbally, approximately 1.5 acres of the land was acquired through a Gazetted Order, dated 28 December 2022.
Brassington said, “At all material times, the Government acted in good faith and with the requisite fairness and alacrity in engaging landowners regarding the GTE Project, and specifically, in terms of the intended acquisition of their lands for the Project. I am aware that throughout the process of acquisition, the landowners were engaged by Ministers of Government and their designates, and were provided legal representation in the form of private practitioners, at no cost to the landowners, and were also advised of their right to retain Counsel of their choice if they wished.”
In the case of the former GECOM Chair, he told the Court that Attorney-at-Law, Manoj Naravan was assigned to the Applicant.
The Head of the GTE Task Force stated, “I am aware that in light of the Applicant’s unreasonable and uncompromising position for compensation in the amount of $100 million for land measuring about 1.5 acres, valued at $7.6 million, the Attorney General prioritized the Applicant’s negotiating process, himself engaging the Applicant through his Attorney-at-Law, as recent as 17 August 2023.”
Brassington provided the High Court with a copy of a land valuation done by the Ministry of Finance Valuation Division, dated September 20, 2022 which valued the land at $7.6 million.
Further, at a meeting in September 2022, the Head of the Task Force said that all affected landowners, including the Applicant were told that the government was prepared to double the valuation figures for each portion of land.
Brassington therefore denied that the government did not make a counter offer to the compensation sought by Dr. Surujbally. He said that the Applicant refused to accept the doubled valuation sum of $15.2 million offered by the Government as part of the negotiation process.
On the other hand, he said, “I am informed by the Attorney General and do verily believe that the Attorney General indicated to the Applicant through his Attorney-at-Law that the (counter)- offer made by the Applicant was grossly inflated; and further, that the said counter-offer was unreasonable, given that the State was already in the process of compensating similarly circumstanced landowners at true, current market value, which said valuations were at significant odds with the Applicant’s inflated valuation of $100M.”
He added that the AG reached out to the Applicant’s Lawyer on several occasions with the $15.2 million offer and a further offer of $20.2 million which were refused as inadequate.
According to Brassington, “The most recent offer of compensation to the Applicant ($20M) is approximately 166 percent or three times the current market value of the land acquired.”
As such, he told the Court, “I contend that the Applicant’s offer of $100M is grossly exorbitant, unfair, and unreasonable… I am advised by my Attorneys-at-Law and verily believe that were the State to accede to the Applicants demand of the inflated and unreasonable compensation of $100M, this will not only result in unjust enrichment to the Applicant, but shall constitute a misuse of the State’s resources.”
The Head of the Task Force further told the Court that any alleged offer of $100M made to the Applicant, in the absence of any supporting evidence, is fanciful ought to be wholly discounted.
Brassington in light of the foregoing has urged the High Court to dismiss the Application brought by Dr. Surujbally and award costs to the state.
Pres. Ali putting water meters on the citizens in Berbice, and not meters on Exxon oil pumps.
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