Building materials for the President

That 29 tonnes of building material was shipped to State House in 2009 in the name of President Jagdeo should not be a problem in ordinary circumstances.

The president is constructing a new residence in the Sparendaam area and if he imports building materials in his private capacity so be it. It would have been a neater arrangement had the items not been shipped to State House as its consigning there created a linkage with the official residence of the President instead of the premises being constructed for citizen, Mr Jagdeo. That in itself provides grounds for the public to be interested in this transaction even if it is described as a private one.

Assuming that the building materials are indeed for his future Sparendaam residence it would mean that President Jagdeo likely knew since 2009 that he and a select few would benefit from plots of land made available for housing by the removal of NCN’s radio transmitter and its relocation on the West Demerara. This would have been far earlier than the first public inkling that posh houses would proliferate near the Sparendaam sea wall on pieces of land handed out by the state without any sort of public tendering. So there are still unanswered questions about the so-called Pradoville 2 and as reported last week, the Region Four Chairman, Mr Clement Corlette is no closer to answers he has sought from the Central Housing and Planning Authority on this project.

What is of greater interest in this matter is the consignor of the material, Guyanese businessman, Mr Ed Ahmad. Again, under ordinary circumstances there should be no problem with Mr Ahmad shipping building materials. The President is free to decide where he sources the material from. The problem, however, is that Mr Ahmad is the subject of a serious federal investigation in the US. He has had several investigations of his business practices in New York and in recent weeks he has faced two separate probes which if either mature to full prosecution could leave him in very serious trouble. In one case he was accused of a cash transaction with New York congressman Mr Gregory Meeks which Mr Meeks only claimed was a loan when questions started to be asked by the authorities. More recently, Mr Ahmad was charged in connection with mortgage fraud in New York that has seen him placed on a bond of US$2.5M and denied permission to leave the US and return to Guyana where he now runs a hardware store.

In addition to his hardware store venture here, Mr Ahmad also secured a large acreage of former GuySuCo land on the West Demerara where he is originally from. Under these circumstances, and without passing judgement on Mr Ahmad, the public has every right to be inquisitive about the transactions between him and the President and to satisfy themselves that all is above board. It is even more important as President Jagdeo has declared that Mr Ahmad has been a friend of his for many years. Friendship aside, it behoves the President to help satisfy the public that the 29 tonnes transaction was well within the margins of acceptable practice.  President Jagdeo has not shown the best judgement in the past in dealing with controversial figures. His publicly voiced determination  to proceed with the appointment of former NY Police Commissioner, Mr Bernard Kerik as a local police advisor is a case in point. There were reports of illegality swirling around Mr Kerik for many months while President Jagdeo deliberated on the matter yet he adamantly refused to apply better judgement until Mr Kerik was on the verge of an indictment in the US and an appointment here would have been impossible.

Could it be the same in this instance? Could Mr Jagdeo’s friendship with Mr Ahmad have clouded his judgement. After all, it had been known for several years that Mr Ahmad was being probed in relation to the Meeks case and that he had begun to invest in Guyana in a big way when he had previously not done this.

There are now two separate issues. The first is the simplest. Was all of the material sent by Mr Ahmad intended for President Jagdeo and used by him? Were the relevant taxes and duties assigned to the shipment paid and was the relevant paperwork processed. Has there been any cost incurred to the State as a result of this transaction? Twenty-nine tonnes is not the ordinary family barrel. And in light of the recent building expo and the president’s desire for the advance of the sector was it really necessary for him to source all of this material from abroad instead of patronizing local businesses? Answers to some of these questions could very well be denied by the President on the grounds of invasion of privacy but we do believe that the balance in this case should be in favour of the public having full knowledge.

The second issue is much more difficult. Could the President’s friendship with Mr Ahmad have influenced in any way decisions that were crucial to Mr Ahmad’s business here? After all, the President is the master of all he surveys here and public servants and government officials who know this may likely act in accordance with knowledge of his ties with Mr Ahmad.

In the interest of transparency and rectitude the public should hear from the President about the building materials and also what measures might have been taken to insulate other decision-making processes such as the bidding for the Leonora lands from the halo of the friendship.

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