Eight months after the APNU+AFC government created a ruckus over the discovery that a group close to the PPP/C had a 99-year lease on historic Red House at a peppercorn rate, the situation remains the same.
Attorney General Basil Williams yesterday said that government is not in favour of a proposal to rent Red House to the PPP/C as it strongly believes that given that it is state property it should benefit all the country’s presidents and not just one. Red House currently houses the papers of the late President, Dr Cheddi Jagan.
Updating the media on the controversial lease arrangement at a press conference at the Attorney General’s Chambers, Williams said that government feels very strongly about this matter. He said that Guyana has had nine presidents and government’s view is that it is not “feasible” to have the records of one past president use up this prime piece of state property.
Calling this selfishness, Williams said that government is hopeful that the PPP/C would “show some maturity in the matter because we feel all nine presidents should be situated in the same area”. He expressed hope that the PPP/C would at some point concede to government’s view.
Asked if they don’t, he explained that the President is the authority for all state lands including where Red House is situated.
He said that as of now the issue is still being considered. “We are hoping that good sense prevails”, he stressed.
Last August, it was Minister of State Joseph Harmon who had disclosed that the PPP/C administration had granted a 99-year lease of Red House to the Cheddi Jagan Research Inc, a private company, at a rate of $1,000 per month. The announcement provoked outrage in several quarters. The government had labelled the deal “criminal” and had signalled its intention to investigate it. It had also made it clear that it was intent on revoking the lease and possibly having the work of other presidents housed there.
The executive members of the company to whom the lease was granted were identified as senior members of the PPP/C.
The lease agreement was finalized sometime in 2012 after the then government had spent millions to renovate Red House. It was only after the APNU+AFC government took office that the lease arrangement was discovered.
Last October, Williams met with a team which comprised former longtime PPP executive member, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran and PPP Executive member Hydar Ally. They had discussions on the issue against the backdrop of the criticism that had erupted.
Asked about subsequent discussions between him and the PPP/C on the issue, Williams said that meetings were held last year during which “certain proposals were made”. He later said that one of the proposals made was that government should allow the party to rent the property so that the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre could remain there.
He made it clear that government is not inclined to give into that.
Among those who have criticized the deal is former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran who has called for its revocation. “Considering that this building was completely refurbished at enormous costs to the state, the shock was even greater to learn that the property was leased since 2012 to this company for a nominal sum of $1,000 per month for a period of 99 years. To add salt to injury, the staff of the centre continued to be paid by the treasury,” he wrote in his Stabroek News column on accountability.
“The agreement should therefore be rescinded, and those responsible should be held personally responsible for this abuse/misuse of public resources, which by definition constitutes an act of corruption,” he wrote.