Executive Director of the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Ltd (NICIL) Winston Brassington says the entity’s role in the Pradoville 2 housing development was limited and it was only following Cabinet’s direction.
“NICIL did not enter into any agreements of sale or receive any monies. All of those transactions would have been done through CHPA (Central Housing and Planning Authority) or the Ministry of Housing and we are not a party or privy to it,” he told reporters during a press conference at NICIL’s head offices in Kingston on Monday.
Under pressure following a damning audit report that recommended criminal charges and disciplinary action for breaching laws, Brassington has defended his leadership of government’s holding company and has said that he broke no laws and the report is not backed up with evidence.
Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran who conducted the forensic audit into the entity had reported that State funds amounting to $257 million were expended on the development of the Sparendaam housing project and conservatively, the value of land there should have been $82.8 million per acre but it was sold for far less.
A report by the State Assets Recovery Unit (SARU) on the development known as Pradoville 2 at Sparendaam on the East Coast of Demerara had said the lots were sold to former ministers and known friends and associates of the previous PPP/C regime. Former President Bharrat Jagdeo has built a mansion there.
Goolsarran’s report had said it is not clear how many lots are involved and their respective sizes; the basis under which the recipients were selected; how the price of approximately $1.5 million per lot was determined; and which entity – NICIL or the CHPA – received the proceeds from the sale of the plots.
“The evidence…suggests that the removal and relocation of the NCN transmission tower were done to facilitate the housing development of the area. Instead of accumulating all the costs associated with the Sparendaam Project, including the market value of the land, in a special account to be applied in arriving at the price to be charged per house lot, NICIL’s board and Cabinet were complicit in charging the related costs of $257.049 million to NCN in the form of equity investment, and to CH&PA in the form of receivable. The fact that several key Cabinet members are the beneficiaries of the house lots, renders it highly inappropriate for the very Cabinet to approve of the charging of the expenditure to the accounts of NCN and CH&PA,” the report said.
On Monday, Brassington said NICIL only spent $70M to prepare the land at Pradoville 2 for development and had no part of any subsequent works. “I am an officer of NICIL, I acted on the proper authority, written…Cabinet decisions directed us to act,” he declared.
According to the Executive Director, NICIL’s involvement in the development of Pradoville 2 was “incidental” and the entity was originally asked to do preparatory works such as the building of the road leading into the scheme but after that, the CHPA took over.
As it relates to how NICIL got involved, Brassington explained that the state broadcaster National Communications Network (NCN) had a tower in the vicinity that, under an agreement between the Government of Guyana and the European Union, needed to be removed prior to the EU assisting in the funding for the expansion of the Ogle International Airport. According to him, the tower had to be removed as it was in the path of air traffic.
Brassington said there was a signed agreement of what needed to be done in order for the €1.5M grant to be processed and since NCN is a fully owned subsidiary of NICIL, the entity was charged with the removal of the tower.
“We have an agreement that was signed with the Ogle Airport where the government committed to one, in exchange for the European Union to providing monies for Ogle airport, that it would be caused to remove that tower which was in the flight path and a number of other commitments, squatters and so on for the Ogle Airport expansion and it becoming an international airport. That was the driving reason why that antenna had to be removed from there,” he asserted.
This is contrary to Goolsarran’s finding that the evidence suggests that the removal and relocation of the NCN transmission tower were done to facilitate the housing development of the area.
Brassington said that NICIL’s role was only to fund. “In parallel of that work being done, NICIL was asked to do some of the development work on the land because the government was going to develop that as basically, a housing development. Now those transactions were handled by CHPA and the Ministry of Housing. NICICL’s role was only to fund, and the total funding was a little over $70M, fund the road inside the compound to basically put water in and basically all of these are covered by Cabinet decisions and to relocate the Dorcas Club. The Dorcas Club had a government primary school at the bottom and a day care at the top and its relocation was to allow for an access from the development onto the public road,” he told reporters.
“That amount is a receivable from Central Housing and Planning Authority and up to earlier this year, the (now former) HPS (Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon) had undertook to ensure that those funds are repaid from housing to us. Beyond that, NICIL had no role so NICIL had no knowledge or role in the allocations of the house lots,” Brassington emphasised.
He declared that under directive from central government and pending cabinet approval and requests, as an agent of NICIL “unless it is illegal, I am compelled to follow those directions.”
According to the forensic audit report, NICIL had indicated that it invested $220.3 million in NCN and this was applied to the development of Pradoville 2.
The Goolsarran report had recommended that the report be referred to the SARU with a view to recovering any State assets/properties that might have been improperly and illegally transferred to third parties. It also urged that criminal/disciplinary actions be instituted against all those responsible for other violations, including the failure to properly account for State resources under their control.