Investigations are still ongoing into the alleged breaches of procedure involving inspection and surveying for the Santa Fe mega farm in the Rupununi, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment has said.
In a statement, the ministry denied that a ‘ministerial order’ was issued that no disciplinary action be taken against officers at the centre of a controversy. Sources had told Stabroek News that by “ministerial order” two Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) officials at the centre of the controversy were to return to work on Thursday last and no disciplinary action would be taken against them.
“Contrary to reports, the ministry would like to restate that the GLSC Board of Directors has established a committee that is reviewing the reports and conducting an investigation into the matter involving the inspection and surveying in Lethem, Region 9. The work of this committee is ongoing and there has not been any intervention by the ministry as erroneously stated in a media article,” the statement said. “Following the media report and request for clarification the management of the GLSC has further advised the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment that the committee has met on several occasions and deliberations are still ongoing,” the statement added.
Stabroek News was told that Commissioner of the GL&SC Doorga Persaud was sent a note by the Board of Directors that no disciplinary action will be taken against the officials and Persaud was also told that he should take the blame for emails being leaked to the press regarding the matter. Stabroek News had first reported on the issue.
The Board of Directors of the GL&SC had reviewed a report regarding alleged breaches of procedure involving surveying for the Santa Fe mega farm. Stabroek News had reported last month that a 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.
President Donald Ramotar 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,” 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 9 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 recently 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 recent statement by the Ministry of Natural Resources which quoted the group.