Commissioner admits corruption a problem at Lands & Surveys

Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, Trevor Benn

…says several employees fired

Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC), Trevor Benn, has admitted that corruption and collusion are problems at the agency.

Benn made this admission during an appearance on local radio programme ‘Hot seat’ hosted by broadcaster Stan Gouveia on Monday. Asked directly about the favoritism showed by staff for certain persons at the expense of others and the perception of corruption, Benn made no bones about the corruption within the agency.

GL&SC Commissioner, Trevor Benn

“Corruption in Guyana is a big problem. And lands and surveys is no different,” Benn said. “There is corruption at the institution, I would be the first to admit and whenever we find it we deal with it. In fact, for this year alone we sent home a couple of staff for corrupt practices,” Benn admitted.

Another way the problem is being addressed, according to Benn, is through the digitization of records. This allows the commission to better track transactions dealt with by staff. Benn also noted that they are working to facilitate master’s level training for lands and surveys staff.

GL&SC recently featured prominently in the news, when Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had dropped bombshell revelations last month that the Government has been quietly distributing massive tracts of prime state lands to employees of the Ministry of the Presidency as well as close associate to the PNC-led A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) faction of the coalition Government and officials of the States Assets Recovery Agency (SARA), which was formed to recover state assets.

Opposition Leader Dr Bharrat Jagdeo

According to the party, the lands were all strategically located to massively benefit the beneficiaries from the coming oil boom. Jagdeo had revealed that most of the leases for these plots of prime real estate were issued by the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) after the December passage of the Opposition-sponsored No-Confidence Motion that caused the Government to fall.

Among the state employees had been State Asset Recovery Agency (SARA) executive Eric Phillips. Phillips, had vehemently denied back in February that he ever applied for, or received any, 3000 acres of lands as was then being claimed.

But the Opposition Leader had pointed to GL&SC File No. 321132/1604 which showed 1000 acres in the Essequibo River was issued to Phillips in April 2019 and File No. 3312317 for another 1000 acres in the Demerara River.

Another prominent name to come up from Jagdeo’s revelations had been Chief Elections Officer (CEO) for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), Keith Lowenfield. According to GL&SC documents, Lowenfield received land at Millie’s Hideout, Linden, Region 10.

Since the revelations that persons closely affiliated to the government had snapped up land in prime locations, questions have been raised about the process that was used to allocate such large tracts of land.

Among those questions have been exactly how much these beneficiaries paid per acre for their land and how they received information on which prime land locations were available, in the absence of advertisements.