More leave ordered for land and surveys employees in Santa Fe dispute

Reports of kickbacks to officials are being probed as the investigation into a surveying dispute involving the Santa Fe mega-farm continues and two Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) officials have been ordered to proceed on further leave.

A senior official and a surveyor have been ordered to take an additional two weeks and a month’s leave respectively, sources close to the investigation told Stabroek News. Even as the probe continues, a government minister has been querying why an investigation was needed and why it was taking so long, Stabroek News was told. The minister is reportedly close to the senior official who was sent on leave and who has strenuously defended his actions.

President Donald Ramotar intervened after senior GL&SC officials complained to him and other government officials about the Santa Fe survey which would have seen the GL&SC losing over $10 million. The President ordered that the privately done survey be cancelled and redone by the GL&SC. An investigation was also initiated and correspondence among officials which were seen by Stabroek News indicate rifts within the agency.

Based on a letter from a senior official at the commission, the issue began when an internal inquiry was initiated into the whereabouts of a surveyor. Subsequently, a broader investigation was recommended.

The GL&SC has statutory responsibility for all public lands in Guyana and based on the correspondence, Santa Fe was in the process of contracting surveying work to a private contractor, a move which was not welcomed by some senior officials but was approved by the senior official who was sent on leave.

“The survey could have been done by GL&SC, but it appears that a private surveyor is being identified for the work, which could result in the loss of revenue for GL&SC of over $10 million,” Commissioner of the GL&SC Doorga Persaud said in correspondence to top officials including Ramotar and Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon. In the correspondence which was seen by Stabroek News, Persaud said that following the instructions of the President, he was going to cancel all arrangements for a private surveyor to do the work in Region 9 and that the GL&SC would conduct the survey.

Santa Fe, which is operated by the Simpson Group of Companies out of Barbados has been in the spotlight recently over the use of chemicals on the farm in the North Rupununi. It has declined requests by Stabroek News for an interview on its investment and all the information on it, prior to a recent statement quoted by the Ministry of Natural Resources, has been provided by the Government Information Agency (GINA).

The official who approved the private survey defended his actions to Persaud. “Santa Fe sought quotations from several persons and it was not possible for the Commission to match those costs (almost 55% lower) since our overheads are much higher and the slow pace of our reaction to get such surveys completed all did not fit with Santa Fe’s plans. I don’t think anyone protested when Santa Fe gave their first job to Mr Rutherford and a Brazilian company,” the official wrote.

He said that at the request of Santa Fe, he gave the go-ahead for field work to commence since he had already signed off the clearance letter. The official said that he was proceeding on leave while another  manager was still off and “I needed to have certain changes to the descriptions fully understood before I left and I am fully aware of senior level thumb twiddling, lack of self-confidence and incompetencies” in the Survey Division.

“I see no issue with this since the survey still has to be checked and a plan needs to be submitted, it is absolute nonsense and a deliberate attempt to destabilise (major) investment projects by persons who have no foresight as to the need for cost efficiency and timeliness by the private sector,” the official wrote.

The action of the official appears to have displeased other officials and a report was sent to the President.

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