Lands and Surveys official at centre of mega farm probe back on the job

The senior Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) official entangled in alleged breaches of procedure involving surveying for the Santa Fe mega farm in the Rupununi has returned to work.

Stabroek News was told that the official recently wrote the Commission’s Board and informed them that he would return to work on Monday, which he did. Prior to going to leave, the official had submitted his resignation and proceeded on pre-retirement leave but the Board subsequently began to probe the breaches, which would have seen the GL&SC losing millions of dollars for a survey. President Donald Ramotar had ordered the probe.

However, the results of the investigation are yet to be made public and officials, including Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment Robert Persaud, are tightlipped. Persaud has not responded to questions from Stabroek News on the issue. The questions were sent three weeks ago and despite reminders and a promise that he would do so, the minister is yet to respond.

A source acknowledged to Stabroek News that the probe has been taking a while.

Stabroek News was informed that recently the official wrote the Board and informed that he was withdrawing his resignation and said that he would return to work from Monday. Stabroek News was told that the Board has also not heard back from the President.

There are also other issues involving payments made by other companies to the official for surveying, Stabroek News was told.

In April, the Ministry in a statement responding to a Stabroek News article, had said that investigations were still ongoing into the alleged breaches of procedure involving inspection and surveying for the Santa Fe mega farm.

The ministry also denied that a ‘ministerial order’ was issued that no disciplinary action be taken against officers at the centre of a controversy.

Stabroek News had reported in March that the senior official and a surveyor were ordered to take an additional two weeks and a month’s leave, respectively, as reports of kickbacks to officials were being probed.

Ramotar had 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 was seen by Stabroek News indicated rifts within the agency.

According to 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 had 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 Nine 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 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 has been provided by the Government Information Agency (GINA) with the exception of a statement by the Ministry of Natural Resources which quoted the group.

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