The names of the legal practitioners chosen to prosecute the alleged criminal offences stemming from the sale of land at the ‘Pradoville 2’ Housing Scheme remained top secret up to yesterday, and Minister of State Joseph Harmon said this might be because their retainer contracts were still being worked out.
“The actual names of the persons I don’t specifically remember, but these are all attorneys in private practice in Guyana who have actually agreed to be part of that team,” he said, during a post-Cabinet press briefing. He noted that when an attorney is engaged there must be some kind of agreement or retainer arrangement. “Therefore I believe that that is why the Attorney General has not decided to let go of these names like that because I believe they are still looking at what retainer arrangements will take place,” he added.
These comments ran contrary to an undertaking given to Stabroek News by Harmon on Thursday. Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams had referred this newspaper to Harmon with regard to the names of those chosen. When approached on Thursday, Harmon had said, “I can provide that to you tomorrow. I don’t know why he [Williams] couldn’t give you …I will give it to you tomorrow. In fact, I may have a press conference tomorrow, so I will give it to you then.”
However, all Harmon would say yesterday was that the list comprises Guyanese in the main as well as two recommendations for persons who reside in the Caricom Region. “That is as much as I can recall at this point in time,” he said.
He said that all of the persons the AG had spoken to had indicated their preparedness to work on the matter. He said there were some who were not contacted but heard about the matter and contacted the AG to offer their services.
“So, I believe what we are getting now is a pool of skilled legal talent who are prepared to work with us to ensure that those wrongs of the past are dealt with in a very swift manner,” he said.
Asked if any of these persons were in contact with either the State Assets Recovery Agency or the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU), Harmon said that while he could not be specific on this, there were “some persons who are helping with the financial analysis work to be done by SARU who are resident abroad but have actually been coming there under the World Bank [programme].”
In early December, it was Harmon who said that the list was presented to Cabinet. “Yes, we have names. The Attorney General returned to Cabinet with names which Cabinet has no objection to,” Harmon had told Stabroek News, while noting that the list included local persons and some from abroad.
This revelation came more than a month after he had told reporters that the AG would be identifying persons with the capacity, legal training and background to prosecute the case.
“There have always been special prosecutors. All that is required is that the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) gives her fiat. Generally, unless there are strong reasons against it, this fiat is given. The AG had been asked to identify persons to do the prosecution. These are not the persons doing the investigation, the police will be investigating,” he had also said.
A special investigation of the housing project, which was part of a larger probe of the financial operations of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA), was conducted by accounting firm Ram & McRae.
The investigation revealed that the allocation of the land was a clandestine arrangement that was handled personally by former housing minister Irfaan Ali and it was concluded that a criminal case for misfeasance could be made against the PPP/C Cabinet members who benefited.
The forensic audit, found that awardees grossly underpaid for the lots by a total of nearly $250 million, while the state-owned National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited, National Communications Network and the Guyana Power and Light Inc were never reimbursed for millions spent to execute preparatory works.
“Our examination leads to the conclusion that the project was done outside of the established procedures and that Minister Ally [sic] piloted every aspect of the transaction without recourse to the Authority. While the minister has considerable powers under the Housing Act, his role in the issue of titles was well outside of his functions and powers,” the final report, which seen by Stabroek News, said.
The report added that the awardees made payments to the CHPA but these were significantly lower than the market value. “No files were maintained by CHPA for any of the plots allocated by a process that can be described as lacking transparency at best,” it further said.
It was stated that of the 28 lots, totalling 12.1187 acres, only 3.9693 acres remain unallocated.
It was explained that lots were allocated to six Cabinet members—former president Bharrat Jagdeo, cabinet secretary Dr Roger Luncheon and ministers Priya Manickchand, Dr Jennifer Westford, Robert Persaud and Clement Rohee—along with other persons with connections to the government.
Of much concern was the involvement of DPP Shalimar Ali-Hack. She was an allottee. The report said that she should not be involved in the matter.
Following the completion of the special investigation and the compilation of a final report, the matter was handed over to SOCU for a criminal probe to be conducted.