Revelations coming out of the courts on Pradoville 2 necessitates a Commission of Inquiry to get answers to questions raised, says Alliance for Change Presidential Candidate, Khemraj Ramjattan.
He said that such a commission need not be a big one but it should seek answers to concerns articulated. Concerns about Pradoville 2 resurfaced after court testimony last week in the libel case brought by President Bharrat Jagdeo against Kaieteur News and columnist Freddie Kissoon. Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon made several disclosures and Ramjattan raised the issue of the acquisition of the land and method of allocation.
He said that the land was “sea defence land” and the inquiry should investigate who was the previous owner, how it was acquired by NICIL and transferred to the Central Planning and Housing Authority and how it was allocated. He also said that the price of the land was another issue and he noted that the area was prime land but was sold for $1M per lot which was a price that many were paying for land in not such a prime spot at places like Diamond and Parfait Harmonie.
Ramjattan said that 13 persons got land at Pradoville 2 and President Bharrat Jagdeo was awarded five house lots. He said that while the ordinary person would have had to go through a rigorous process to get a lot including proving that they have children, those accessing the same at Pradoville 2 did not go through this process. “It is a disgraceful thing,” he said while stressing the need for an inquiry to get answers.
He also noted that from what was revealed, it was not the CHPA that was awarding the lots but Dr Luncheon was “calling up” persons and the house lots were distributed in this way. “It is one big scam,” he said, adding that the administration wants to cover it up.
In court last week, Luncheon said that to the best of his knowledge the decision to allocate land was made by the CH&PA. He named Chairman of Region 10, Mortimer Mingo, the PNCR’s top official in Region 10, as one who was offered house lots at Pradoville 2.
The housing scheme has attracted searing criticism from sections of the public including the PNCR over the lack of transparency and preferential services to it. The linking of Mingo to the scheme is seen as embarrassing to the main opposition party as Mingo had made no prior revelation about it. On Friday, after the Ministry of Housing dramatically produced a cheque he had tendered to it, Mingo acknowledged for the first time that he had sent a cheque for $1,500,500 to recognise the offer of a house lot in the controversial scheme but had it dishonoured after discovering that other chairmen had not been offered lots.
On Thursday, Mingo had said that some time on or about August 2010, he received a telephone call from Luncheon who informed him that the Government of Guyana was in the process of allocating house lots at Sparendaam, East Coast Demerara where the radio antennas were located, and that these plots of lands were being allocated to senior government functionaries and Regional Chairmen. He said that Luncheon told him that he was identified as one of the recipients for a house lot and would be contacted later as to how the allocation would be made.
Mingo said that on the advice of his attorney, he acknowledged the offer and since then has not heard from Luncheon or anyone concerning the plot of land. “I have not signed any agreement or condition of sale, or paid any money for any land at Sparendaam, or received any lease, title or transport for that land from the Government of Guyana. In fact I have never seen the land,” he said.
Mingo, however, did not say that his acknowledgement was in the form of a cheque dated September 3, 2010 and that he had later moved to have it dishonoured. Observers say that such an acknowledgement on the face of it indicated a clear interest.
The manner of the offer by Luncheon suggested that there was no defined framework for apportioning house lots, especially since Mingo resided in Linden and lots such as these are usually assigned to eligible families who have no lots. The Pradoville 2 controversy surged into the public eye in October of last year.
Following Mingo’s statement Minister of Housing Irfaan Ali called a press conference to display the cheque which he said was payment for the land at Pradoville 2. The minister said that the cheque for $1.5 million was dishonoured by the bank and he produced the evidence to this effect. The cheque, made out to the Central Housing and Planning Authority, was signed by Mingo but did not state what the money was for.
Region Four Chairman, Clement Corlette who is a top PNCR member had been seeking answers about the controversial scheme but up to now has not received a response from the CHPA since sending a letter on April 14. When contacted yesterday, Corlette said that he has not been following the testimony in the court. However, he said that his main concern “remains the way in which they usurp the land and have not presented the plans to the local authority.” He said that due process has not been followed and even now they are not trying to make amends. “It shows that they don’t care about local statutory bodies,” he said.
In a letter to Chief Executive Officer of the CH&PA Mryna Pitt, dated April 14, Corlette said that buildings at ‘Pradoville 2,’ where President Bharrat Jagdeo and senior government officials are building houses, may be in violation of several regulations. He said that permission was not sought from the local authorities, building plans were never submitted nor were they certified by the Environmental Health Officer. He had sought answers on the development and in his letter, which was seen by Stabroek News, he noted that at a Region Four Administrative Committee meeting on April 12, the Chairman of the Industry/ Plaisance Neighbourhood Democratic Council Clinton Rollox was unable to account for the extensive work underway at the development.
The exclusive housing development at Sparendaam North, in proximity to the sea defence structure, has been under scrutiny with several members of society accusing the officials building homes there of elitism, in view of the ‘special‘ treatment afforded to the development. Since construction began last year, questions have been raised about whether the land was advertised publicly and how it was allocated and valued, among other things.