Lands and Surveys under probe for 100s of acres of land sold below market value, no public tender

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…all transactions approved under APNU/AFC being reviewed

A slew of land transactions done by the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC), which resulted in certificates of titles being issued to persons for lands sold under market value and without public tender, are currently under review by the Legal Affairs Ministry.

This was confirmed by Attorney General Anil Nandlall in an interview with this publication. According to him, hundreds of acres of land were sold in this manner under the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government. These sales are all being reviewed.

“This includes (a) vast number of transactions relating to commercial lands within the city of Georgetown, including Government reserves, (and) huge portions of land at the area where the new Diamond/Ogle intersection road is likely to be built,” Nandlall explained.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall

“I speak of lands (on) both sides of the road, hundreds of acres. Lands that are not even owned or under the control of the Lands and Surveys Commission, but owned by other state agencies, were disposed of unlawfully,” he further explained.

According to the Attorney General, the transfers occurred both before and after passage of the No Confidence Motion (NCM) that toppled the former Government in December 2018. In fact, Nandlall noted that transactions were taking place even after APNU/AFC lost the March 2nd General and Regional Elections.

It is understood that the lands were approved by the GL&SC, after which titles were issued by the Guyana Land Registry.

Nandlall noted that former GL&SC Commissioner Trevor Benn, who was sent on leave in September, had headed the agency at the time these things happened.

Former GL&SC Commissioner, Trevor Benn

“The matter is made more egregious by the fact that there was no principle by which the purchase price was determined. So, one piece of land was sold to one company for over $100 million, and a similar size of land in the same location was sold for less than 10 per cent of that price,” Nandlall said. “And no public process whatsoever was engaged in in relation to the disposal of these lands, which is the identical thing that occurred at NICIL. So, the general public never got an opportunity to buy this land, nor were they even made aware that these lands were up for sale or lease.”

He therefore questioned how the persons who benefited from the land were made aware that the land was available, and whether they were tipped off about the availability of the land due to their political connections.

Nandlall has, however, made it clear that a day of reckoning is coming for those deemed guilty of engaging in these transactions.

“All those transactions are ultra vires, unlawful, null and void. By the end of this week, some of these transactions under review will be made public, and after they are made public, the files will be passed to the Guyana Police Force for investigation and (the institution of) charges where necessary,” The Attorney General explained.

Revoked

Under various pieces of legislation, the President of Guyana is allowed to delegate a number of powers vested in him. These pieces of legislation include the State Lands Act and the Lands Department Act in respect to sanctioning of renting and granting of leases, licences, and permission of occupancy of all public lands to the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission, exercisable by the Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission.

After assuming office in 2015, former President David Granger had, in 2016, delegated his powers of approving and issuing leases and licences of State lands to Lands and Surveys Commissioner Trevor Benn.

One of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) government’s first acts in August was to revoke Benn’s powers to approve and issue leases and licences, or to grant permission for occupancy of State lands.

The actions of the GL&SC almost mirror those of its sister agency the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), whose former Chief Executive Officer Colvin Heath-London was recently sacked and taken into custody by the Guyana Police Force.

Colvin Heath-London

It has been revealed that the former APNU/AFC Government vested almost 100 acres of prime State land at Ogle, East Coast Demerara (ECD) to eight different companies. All told, the total value of the land is some $2.9 billion, but NICIL received only approximately $64 million in payments.

NICIL is also taking flak for the leasing of several plots of land at Peter’s Hall by two companies, A-Z Pharmaceuticals headed by Eddie Doolal, and Life 1 Pharms Incorporated headed by Avalon Jagnanan. These lands were leased and then flipped for a profit.

Of interest, too, is the fact that in both lease agreements, a clause was deliberately modified to state that “the lessee may divest the land, may part with possession, may assign it to a third-party interest”.

However, Guyana’s State Lands Act stipulates that whenever State lands are leased, the lease agreement must indicate that the lessee “shall not” part with lands (possession) or “shall not” assign the interest in the said agreement without the consent of the State.

It also states that in the event that there is going to be a transfer to a third party, the State reserves the right to step in and repossess the lands, reverting ownership to the State.