Testimony by Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Luncheon in the libel matter brought by President Jagdeo has cast revealing light on the Pradoville 2 Scheme and the levels of contract between the directorates of political parties, in this case the ruling PPP/C and the PNCR.
Dr Luncheon’s contention that the Chairman of Region 10 and the head of the PNCR in that area, Mr Mortimer Mingo was one of the beneficiaries of the scandalous arrangements for this scheme drew an instant rebuff from the latter who in part said, “I have not signed any agreement or condition of sale or paid any money for any land at Sparendaam, or have I received any lease, title or transport for that land from the Government of Guyana. In fact I have never seen the land.” There was a significant omission by Mr Mingo in this statement which will be addressed later.
He further said that it was Dr Luncheon himself who had offered him a lot but he had heard nothing thereafter, a position that again was not altogether so. When asked on Friday about his approach to Mr Mingo – the propriety of which must be immediately called into question – Dr Luncheon said “In the case of Mr Mingo it really wasn’t an authority that was needed to advise a close friend and likely neighbour about opportunities that had become known to me.“
Dr Luncheon has unfortunately put himself in the middle of the improper assigning of prime lots of land on his own admission to a friend. His answer has exposed the Pradoville 2 Scheme as exactly what all fair-minded citizens see it as: a thoroughly vulgar carve up of state lands which runs completely counter to the supposed premises of the government’s much-vaunted house lot distribution scheme so nobly inaugurated by the late President Cheddi Jagan. Nowhere in Dr Jagan’s conceiving of the distribution of lots to indigent, landless families would he have envisaged that some of his trusted functionaries, including a president who had recently turned over a house in Pradoville 1 for a monumental sum, would eye this area for themselves when they were unqualified for it if the standard eligibility rules were applied.
So if Dr Luncheon clued his “friend” in – probably because the PPP/C perceived the need for some type of balancing in the scheme – how many other functionaries in the Office of the President and other ministries might not have given nods to their trusted buddies and undeserving others? It must have surely dawned on Dr Luncheon that there would be thousands in this country who would like to have been considered his “friend” and also be able to participate in this grabbing of state lands. Unfortunately, the apportioning of the assets of the state in any well-governed place is never on the basis of friendship or any other such trifling association. It should be based solely on rules, merit, transparency and fairness.
Stabroek News and other sections of society have tried unrelentingly to have the government make absolutely clear the basis on which this land was taken and transformed into house lots for the powerful and their friends.
On Jan 17, 2011 we editorialized on this matter and said, “Indeed, great secrecy has attended the divvying up of the land at what has come to be known as Pradoville 2 and the constructions thereupon. The President’s usually loquacious Minister of Housing, Mr Irfaan Ali has steadfastly refused several opportunities to speak on the apportioning of the land at Plaisance, the most recent being a letter by Stabroek News to him in December seeking information. Letters were also sent to the Chief Executive Officer of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA), Mrs Mryna Pitt and Head of NICIL/Privatisation Unit, Mr Winston Brassington. Mr Ali and Mrs Pitt did not respond and Mr Brassington said that the questions should be directed to the Minister of Housing “since NICIL is not the competent authority to answer such questions.”
Now that Minister Ali has made bold to release the dishonoured cheque tendered by Mr Mingo ostensibly for the purchase of a lot at Pradoville 2 he should make a clean breast of it and answer all of the questions that would likely expose this scheme for the illegality it is.
As we said on January 17: “The acreage at Sparendaam/Plaisance first came to public notice when the NCN transmission tower was relocated from that area to the West Demerara. One hopes that the tower was moved for better reasons than the assigning of the land to house the President and other senior government officials.
“The public’s interest in the land really begins at the point at which the transmission tower was removed. What process or consideration led to the government decision to make land available for purchase by President Jagdeo and the yet unknown list of big-wigs? …”
Is Minister Ali prepared to answer these questions now? No matter who the elections bring to office this year, Pradoville 2 will not disappear from the headlines and the questions will have to be answered and the necessary remedial measures taken.
So what of Mr Mingo? His party, the PNCR has said it will handle this matter internally. The party appears to be just as insensitive to public interest in relation to this highly problematic scheme. Mr Mingo’s ensnaring in this matter is now in the public domain and must be handled by the party in the same manner.
Mr Mingo has ruined his credibility by not disclosing from the inception that he had been contacted by his “friend” Dr Luncheon on this issue and that he had tendered a cheque for $1,500,500 which he later decided not to honour. By withholding this information on a matter of public interest Mr Mingo signalled that he was prepared to withhold materially important information.
Even if Dr Luncheon contacted him because of their friendship, in the same friendly vein it would have been the expectation of his party and its supporters that he would have told the HPS that the approach was most inappropriate and immediately reject the offer; not signal interest and later rescind it.
Surely Mr Mingo would have known that in opposition his PNCR has railed against schemes like Pradoville 2 which are opaque.
Surely Mr Mingo would have known that any offer of a lot in a government organized housing scheme would have to be attended by more stern criteria than friendship.
Surely Mr Mingo would have recognized the inappropriateness of the chairman of Region Ten (Upper Berbice/Upper Demerara) signalling an interest in residence outside of the region where he resides.
Surely Mr Mingo would be above contemplating prospecting with state land.
So it is not only Dr Luncheon who has difficulties in this matter. The credibility of the PNCR in this region has been severely hit as a result of this episode.
It has also spotlighted concerns that the advocacy of the PNCR in opposition or lack thereof is somehow related to the special “friendships” that have developed at various levels; friendships quite distinct from the usual collegial ties and friendly banter that exist between mature politicians.
President Jagdeo’s lawsuit has backfired in many respects. Here it has managed a twin assault on the bases of Pradoville 2 and the credibility of the PNCR in Region 10.