The High Court challenge to the misconduct in public office charges against two officials of the former Government was delayed and rescheduled to early next month after the Attorney General (AG) was said to have attended Cabinet at the time the matter was slated to be heard on Tuesday.
This is even though the hearing was fixed almost one month ago.
Former Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh and former Chairman of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) Winston Brassington are challenging their misconduct in public office charges that were brought in the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
Their challenge came up before acting Chief Justice Roxane George, SC in chambers at the High Court on Tuesday.
It was expected that open court proceedings would have continued but as this was not the case; the judge adjourned the matter to November 1, 2018 when the AG’s side should be responding to submissions of the applicants.
This was according to lawyer for the applicants, Anil Nandlall, who told reporters that prior to Tuesday’s hearing, the AG’s chambers was always represented by a team of the Solicitor General and other lawyers.
“Hopefully he shows up or someone authorised by him shows up who is prepared to do the arguments because the case is fixed,” Nandlall noted on Tuesday.
The defendants, who were released on $6 million each, denied the charges leveled against them by SOCU earlier this year.
The are accused of selling various properties at prices the State contends were grossly undervalued. The charges relate to the sale of several plots of land on the East Coast of Demerara to National Hardware Guyana Ltd for over $598 million; the sale of land to Scady Business Corporation at a cost of $150 million, and to Multi-cinemas Guyana Inc. at a cost of $185 million.
Another set of charges were later filed against Singh and Brassington, over the sale of the former Sanata Textiles Complex to Queens Atlantic Investment Inc (QAII). This, like other charges, was also challenged in the High Court.
It was alleged that between October 26 and December 20, 2010, the duo acted recklessly when they agreed to the sale of the Sanata Textiles Complex to QAII. According to the charge, the 18.976-acre property was sold for $697.8 million, but it was valued at $1.04 billion.
However, according to privatisation documents published by NICIL, the property was valued at $245 million by the Government’s Chief Valuation Officer, but QAII paid $809.5 million for the property – more than three times the Government valuation.
According to documents seen by this publication, upon Cabinet’s approval, QAII embarked on its promised programme of reclamation, clean-up and investment. On May 30, 2007, QAII had requested and received a valuation of the property from the Government Assistant Valuation Officer, which proposed $330.375 million (land $269.200 million; improvements $119.175 million).
On June 7, 2018, NICIL had commissioned a valuation from the private firm of Rodrigues Architects Ltd, which posited that the property be valued at $1,042,403,500 (land $209.650 million; improvements $832.753 million). NICIL also obtained, on June 27, 2007, a valuation of the land and its improvements from the Government’s Chief Valuation Officer, which came in at $245.175 million (land, $130 million; improvements $115.175 million). QAII was responsible, at its expense, for the asbestos clean-up and removal of scrap, which alone incurred a cost of above $400 million.
Nandlall had warned of the opening of floodgates if the court were to accept the valuation done by Rodrigues Architects Ltd, insisting that valuation certificate by that firm is merely the valuator’s opinion.
“[Is it that] not Parliament anymore but the opinion of an architect/valuator becomes engrafted into our Criminal Justice System as part of our Criminal Law, and persons can be charged who act offensive to that opinion, and lose their liberty?” he questioned.
Moreover, Nandlall had challenged the validity of the ‘misconduct’ charges. He pointed out that the Government of the day had a policy of selling properties below market value, and Singh and Brassington were merely executing their duties when they carried out the transactions.
“What is this misconduct? There is no allegation that Ashni Singh or Winston Brassington profited personally from these charges… There is no allegation that the proceeds from the sale did not reach the state’s coffers… So there is no wrongdoing, no misconduct to attach sanctions,” he argued, while further questioning which law was offended when the lands were sold below market value.
At the last court hearing, the acting Chief Justice heard further arguments from attorneys representing Singh Brassington where Nandlall disputed the application of the British common law principle to Guyana’s laws, having cited conflicts with this country’s Constitution with the definition of a public officer. He had observed that the particulars of the offence for which the duo are charged had “no reference” that Singh and Brassington are public officers, saying that this was a fundamental defect.
He had stated that it would be a worrying development for citizens to face charges for having accepted a lower valuation ($6M against $12M) where the lower valuation was calculated by Government’s own Chief Valuation Officer.