PPP/C MP and Presidential Advisor on Empowerment Mr Odinga Lumumba in a letter in the April 19 edition of this newspaper criticized SN for its reportage on his land deal at the back of the Botanical Gardens. As detailed in the Editor’s note to his letter, the reportage was perfectly in order as it relied on official documentation which has not been refuted by anyone.
Further, Mr Lumumba, as would be the case with other holders of public office, should be subjected to rigorous scrutiny, particularly as it relates to transactions that seem questionable in terms of rectitude and transparency especially if there were similar instances in the past. Mr Lumumba’s protestation has provided an opportunity for a closer examination of his remarkable success in acquiring resources from the state along with other facilities.
It may first be useful to underline that Mr Lumumba has been fiercely protective of his fundamental right to freedom of association and has exercised it when it was in his interest. So from ardent and vociferous supporter of the PNC up to 1992 when the party lost the historic election, Mr Lumumba jumped ship when Mr Hamilton Green was expelled from the party and became an important member of A Good and Green Guyana. After it was clear that the GGG had hit rock bottom after a promising start in the 1994 local government elections, Mr Lumumba remarkably migrated to the PPP/C, the nemesis of his former longstanding base – the PNC.
Mr Lumumba can rest assured that the only interest this newspaper has in him is to ascertain that all of his transactions on behalf of the citizenry of this country and in relation to the public purse are beyond reproach, and where this isn’t so that he be held fully accountable. The indications are however that Mr Lumumba has not been held to this standard by the government and therefore it is imperative that each of his transactions be examined by the media and other watchdogs and presented to the public if warranted.
In the case of the present deal, Mr Lumumba was assigned what under any circumstance would be considered a prime spot in the city next to the Chinese embassy for a mere pittance – $1.5M. He was then able to flip the property for an enormous gain. Aside from the consequential questions of whether capital gains tax had been paid and why the valuation was so low, the public has an inherent right to be apprised of the manner in which this allocation of land was done. As a matter of fact, all business done between the government and its employees should be fully publicized and justified.
Mr Lumumba’s letter kindly provides some of the details which were missing and also raised a fistful of questions about how he has been able to successfully navigate the corridors of successive governments to have his land needs satisfied. He related that in 1992, he was “allotted” by the PNC government 10,000 acres of land by lease for agricultural purposes at Manarabisi. No other details were provided but readers would be aware that this was in the last months of the PNC government when it seemed clear that it would not be in power much longer. How and why the 10,000 acres were allotted and for what consideration is unclear. Mr Lumumba further related that shortly after the PPP/C assumed office in October, 1992 – he did not specify when – he was requested by President Jagan to relinquish approximately 4,000 acres. It is unclear how much time had elapsed but Mr Lumumba says he had already expended millions in surveying, engineering designs and feasibility studies. Notwithstanding this Mr Lumumba says he agreed to give up 4,000 acres on the sole condition that another plot of land be made available to him. It was a quite magnanimous gesture on his part to agree to this although the very nature of the allotting of land in 1992 might have been subject to complete reversal.
The subsequent offering of the land by the government at the back of the Botanical Gardens for the fire sale price of $1.5M or $2.5M naturally raises questions in the minds of the citizenry as it was presented as a stand alone deal without the Manarabisi subtext. What is even more amazing is that Mr Lumumba then went on to disclose that he has agreed to give up the remaining land at Manarabisi in order to facilitate GuySuCo’s diversification drive “without any form of compensation at this point in time.” Why seek a compensatory plot of land for 4,000 acres but not for 6,000 acres? Is this the end of this particular deal or is there more to come?
And if that was not enough, Mr Lumumba then went on to reveal that he has now relinquished to the state the rights to 10,000 acres of land at Akawini in the Pomeroon area which he “acquired” under the PNC government. Further, he has also relinquished to the state the right to develop a housing scheme on an area which now accommodates members of the joint services and which he had also “acquired” under the PNC government. It should be noted that despite the age of these land allocations none of them produced ventures of any note as was also the case with the Mariwa concession referred to below. His revelations also raise questions about the manner in which he was accorded these lands under the PNC government. They also underline the concerns that were rampant then about the conduct of government business, concerns which no doubt the PPP itself would have raised vehemently during that period.
But what of this PPP/C administration? After his appointment as presidential advisor, Mr Lumumba presided over the President’s Youth Choice Initiative which was well exposed by this newspaper as having squandered millions of scarce resources on a host of white elephant projects. There is yet to be proper accounting for this project which was one of the early brainchilds of President Jagdeo. Apart from this project, taxpayers can reasonably ask what other functions Mr Lumumba has performed in his capacity as presidential advisor on empowerment. What efforts have been made to empower the myriad impoverished and unemployed in this country? Can his recently disclosed salary be justified? Perhaps President Jagdeo and Mr Lumumba can enlighten the public.
Mr Lumumba then gained notoriety when he was exposed by this newspaper as having exported dolphins by virtue of his role within the Office of the President when he was not a licensed wildlife exporter. By normative standards Mr Lumumba should have been given his marching papers and his conduct investigated, but as is now well known, President Jagdeo carefully protects those close to him and Mr Lumumba was let off after offering an apology. The furore over the dolphin investigation also had the most unfortunate backlash in the then Auditor General Mr Anand Goolsarran feeling pressured to leave his post by the actions of President Jagdeo and the Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Luncheon. The Auditor General’s office has been a mere shadow of itself since.
As to the deal that Mr Lumumba and his business partner were able to strike with Shoreham Resources Inc of Canada for the Mariwa concession, Stabroek News has gone on record as denouncing it and calling for it to be cancelled. President Jagdeo had no locus standi in intervening on behalf of Messrs Lumumba and Walrond and this intervention is redolent of exactly the type of behaviour that hallmarked the worst of PNC governance. Mr Lumumba as an advisor to the president, member of cabinet and MP should have been debarred from this deal and the President should have had no part in it.
The bottom line is that Mr Lumumba is a member of President Jagdeo’s favoured circle, has benefited from flawed decision-making by the administration and has escaped any sanctions whatsoever. The fable that the PPP/C government holds all and sundry accountable and turned its back on the worst excesses of the PNC has long been exposed.