Sale of part of Demerara River: Land close to shore base location now worth millions of US dollars

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…as PPP questions strategic land grab at expense of ordinary Guyanese

…calls for Police investigation into massive GL&SC land distribution

Attempts by the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission (GL&SC) to justify its action in the allocation of thousands of acres of land to persons aligned with the Government still leaves several unanswered questions.

According to the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) on Saturday, the GL&SC in its ‘half-baked’ attempt to explain its actions, had still not explained the rationale for the distribution of land in prime locations along the Demerara River that will now be worth over US$100 million.

GL&SC Commissioner, Trevor Benn

The Party noted that the value for this land is especially lucrative, given the need for shore base facilities to cater to oil companies currently operating in Guyana’s waters. The Party noted that GL&SC head, Trevor Benn, failed to address this issue.

According to the Party, aside from Benn’s preoccupation with how the damning details became public, he failed to respond to major questions that were raised by the Party’s General Secretary and Opposition Leader. Key among these unanswered questions was what rationale was used by the GL&SC to give out practically the entire Demerara River waterfront to politically-connected persons.

On Thursday, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo had revealed that there seemed to be a rush to give out prime lands at strategic locations where there lies possibility to develop shore base facilities. In fact, he disclosed that 50 acres along the western foreshore of the Demerara River, as well as 40 acres in the river itself— also toward the western side— were given away.

It is understood that Saratu Phillips, Director of Great Wall Incorporated, was a common name in those leases. Phillips previously featured in the controversial Georgetown Parking Meter project, when another company he owned, Astrolobe Technology Inc., claimed to have had a pre-existing contract to implement the ill-fated project.

According to the PPP, Phillips and miner Shawn Hopkinson, own a company named Gold Bar Development and Consulting Incorporated that benefitted from a gold export license in 2018. The Party revealed that Hopkinson’s property is, in fact, currently being rented by Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency Joseph Harmon.

Great Wall received 20 acres at Schoonoord Foreshore, Region Three, on the banks of the Demerara River. It received another 20 acres at Good Fortuin, Region Three. In addition, it received 50 acres at the Best Foreshore.

Other applicants

The PPP lambasted GL&SC for the fact that Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield received valuable land in Region 10, ahead of others, including Lindeners, who had applied for said land.

“Mr Benn said he had ‘no apologies’ for granting 216 acres of land to Mr Lowenfield in June of this year, at Millie’s Hideout, Linden, Region 10. Could Mr Benn say why persons in Region 10, particularly Lindeners, who applied for lands to be used for housing and other economic activities, in the same area, did not have their applications approved? Does he have an apology for these Guyanese?” the Party questioned.

“Ordinary Guyanese continue to suffer the hardships imposed by the policies of the coalition Government, including their inability to access house lots, since not one house lot has been developed in the past four-plus years, while there is ‘wanton’ and ‘obscene’ land grabbing that benefits a select few”.

Information

Since the revelation 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 whether an open tender was used, exactly how much all the beneficiaries paid per acre for their land, and how they received information on which prime land locations were available, in the absence of advertisements.

The PPP pointed out in its statement that “the land grab was taking place in strategic locations – locations for possible shore base facilities, deep water harbours, and other major infrastructural developments”.

Questions have been raised about the role played by Ndibi Schwiers, whose husband, engineer Charles Ceres, received 112 acres in Bohemia, Region 6 and 4.5 acres at Liliendaal. Schwiers is the Director of the Department of Environment within the Ministry of the Presidency.

In addition, questions have also been raised over why the applications of persons close to the coalition Government and Party were fast tracked after 2015 when A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) came to office, when the applications of thousands of ordinary Guyanese remain in a backlog.

And noting Benn’s call for the police to investigate how materials from his agency were leaked to the Opposition Leader, the PPP instead condemned the Government’s drive against whistleblowers of corruption and called for the Police to investigate the wholesale distribution of land to party cronies.