Lands and surveys, NICIL say unaware of court ruling on Ed Ahmad land

Months after South American Woods Incorporated (SAW Inc) succeeded in securing an ex parte order from the High Court enabling it to change the terms of the use of land at Leonora, NICIL – the intermediary in the sale – and the lands and survey commission say they were unaware of the legal proceedings.

The GuySuCo land was sold to SAW with restrictive covenants requiring a wood processing facility but the company has now embarked on a housing estate. It explained this by saying that it had applied to the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) in the area and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for permission for the wood processing facility but had been denied. It then moved to the High Court and the relevant order was granted by Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang on October 2, 2013. This order was reported in the June 8, 2014 edition of Stabroek News.

Questions have been raised as to whether recourse to the court was the appropriate procedure for this transaction which has controversial businessman Ed Ahmad as one of its principals.

Speaking to Stabroek News on Wednesday, Head of National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), Winston Brassington, said that the entity has not been notified of the ruling. He said that an ex-parte summons, of course, meant that not all the interested parties would have been notified of the intention to amend the transport.

Since NICIL acted as the agent for the sale of the 17 acres of land on behalf of the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo), any matters taken to the courts for an amendment should as a courtesy be relayed to NICIL. The Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) should also have been a party to the matter, sources say.

Commissioner of GL&SC, Doorga Persaud told Stabroek News that he was not made aware of any court matters involving SAW in relation to the land purchased in 2011. The commissioner had told Stabroek News that he would be looking into the matter at the beginning of the week. On Wednesday afternoon he stated that the GL&SC was still not aware of any summons other than what was reported in the media. He said “I have not seen anyone in relation to this and I am not aware of anything.”

Persaud told Stabroek News that since he has not been officially told about the legal aspects of the issue he could not comment on the matter or what the intention of the GL&SC was.

This newspaper has been informed that in light of the ruling, GuySuCo will be seeking legal action, because restrictive Covenants were placed on the sale of the land for $80 million. Director of SAW, Shareef Ahmad during an interview last week had told Stabroek News that prior to moving ahead with the housing development project the company had every intention to construct the original wood processing facility. He stated that after purchasing the land, an application was sent in to the Neighbourhood Democratic Council (NDC) as well as to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval of wood processing plans, but these were denied.

After the application was denied in 2012 Ahmad stated that SAW re-evaluated what to do with the land and on September 24, 2013 the company applied for the ex-parte summons and a ruling was made to amend the transport on the land on October 2, 2013.

Based on an ex-parte summons, Justice Chang made an order authorising the Registrar of Deeds to amend the conditions stated in the transport, removing “the construction and operation of a wood processing facility with the option of future development in manufacturing, industrial” from the Plan and replacing it with “housing and or residential purposes on Block “R2” of Block R Plantation Groenveldt, West Coast Demerara.” A request was also made to completely delete the provision stating that a wood processing facility would need to commence first before any other potential land use.

The deletion of the portion that a wood processing facility would need to commence before any other potential land use has critics wondering if the intention was ever to build such a facility in the first place. The land was sold in 2011 after a deal was struck in 2010. The land then remained undeveloped until 2013. Ahmad stated that in 2012 SAW was denied permission to construct by the NDC and the EPA because of the negative environmental impact including chemical waste, dust and noise pollution. He also noted that from the time the deal was signed in 2011, the government constructed two learning institutions in the areas which also were reasons for the denial of building approval. The approval for the construction of one of them, the Leonora Secondary School however was granted since 2010.

Over a year had passed however before SAW applied to the NDC and the EPA for building approval. Ahmad did not venture into why this was not done at the same time that the land deal was being struck in 2011.

The Leonora housing project will cater for 87 house lots and a mall. Critics have raised queries over how a comprehensive building plan could have been so quickly put together in the period from being denied authority for a wood processing facility in 2012 to quietly approaching the Chief Justice’s court in September 2013.

Stabroek News has made multiple attempts to contact GuySuCo on the matter, but neither the CEO, Raj Singh, nor Company Secretary, Frederick Singh, has been available. Previously GuySuCo’s company secretary had stated that before any formal investigation, it was possible that SAW Inc would shelve the project due to the recent controversy surrounding the development project, however this has not happened and construction on the site is ongoing.

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