Another company returns State land to NICIL

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NICIL

Even as the chips from the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government’s giveaway of State lands continue to fall, another company has decided that the wisest thing to do is return the land it received.

Caribbean Marketing Enterprises Incorporated (CMEI) is the latest company to return land it received from the National industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), claiming that receiving the land in the circumstances it did has put it in an “unfamiliar and uncomfortable” position.

In a statement on Thursday, ERES Capital Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Mike Elliott, who is a partner in CMEI, announced that the company would be returning the 21 acres of land at Ogle, East Coast Demerara (ECD) that it received under the former Government with the intention of investing in hotels.

The company recounted that it first tried to purchase the Marriott Hotel, which the former Government initially tried to sell, back in 2016. However, its pitch for the hotel was unsuccessful. It was then that it engaged NICIL on buying real estate in the Ogle area in close proximity to one of its major clients.

“Admittedly, this was a very lengthy, tedious and transparent process with its fair share of frustrations coupled with ongoing costs and redundant paperwork. Notwithstanding these issues, we were finally able to complete acquisition of 21 acres of real estate in the Ogle area.

“The conclusion of this process was timed with post-elections delay in Guyana and the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. These combined conditions have placed us in a very unfamiliar and uncomfortable position,” the company said.

According to the executive, these circumstances, coupled with its support and goodwill for the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government, have seen the company choose to give up its 21 acres of land to NICIL, with the return of capital.

“These actions are based on our recognition that the Government of Guyana has the best interests of Guyanese at heart. As US nationals, some with Guyanese heritage, we are confident on the way forward and believe our multinational team and associated partners can be a world-class partner for Guyana.

“We have committed to support the Government as they embark on the journey to develop Guyana and improve the lives of the people. As this new process unfolds, ERES/CMEI would like to have discussions with the Government regarding our development plans, services, and investments and the way forward,” the company added.

CMEI, which comprises a group of foreign investors, was planning to construct at least two “international flagship” hotels on the land. It even conducted a sod-turning ceremony on February 19, which featured then Finance Minister Winston Jordan. The former Government rushed the deal through to completion within days of the March 2 General and Regional Elections.

The 21 acres of land NICIL sold to CMEI is just one of the many deals brokered by the former APNU/AFC Government despite losing a No-Confidence Motion back in December of 2018, which meant that it was supposed to be in caretaker mode, not entering into large-scale transactions.

But when it comes to land, it has been revealed so far that the former APNU/AFC Government vested almost 100 acres of prime State land along the ECD to various companies. The total value of the lands the former Government handed out along the East Coast was $2.9 billion. But NICIL, which is supposed to ensure Guyana gets the best value for privatised State assets, only received approximately $64 million in payments.

Other than CMEI, five companies which benefited from these questionable land deals have since surrendered the land back to NICIL. The companies that are known to have returned the lands to the State are Navigant Builders Incorporated – the developers of Windsor Estates; Cardiology Services Incorporated; the Corum Group; American Marine Services Incorporated and Supergraphics Enterprise.

In all of these cases, the firms have expressed a desire to work with the new PPP/C Administration to get the necessary and proper approvals needed to pursue their respective developmental goals.

The Government of Guyana has already called in the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) and the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to investigate the ECD land deals.

Colvin Heath-London, who presided over NICIL as its CEO at the time these lands were sold, has already been detained and questioned by the Police as it relates to land transactions under his tenure.