Former Auditor General Anand Goolsarran says that Pradoville 2 was meant for the personal enrichment of a few at the expense of the majority.
He maintains that from all of the information presented that the NCN transmission tower at Sparendaam was removed to facilitate the Pradoville 2 housing scheme about which former president Bharrat Jagdeo and a number of other PPP/C government officials were recently grilled by SOCU.
In his accountability column in yesterday’s Stabroek News, Goolsarran also maintained that the amount paid by Jagdeo and others for the land was woefully below market value even if some disputed expenses are removed. The value of the land is a subject of the ongoing probe by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
Stating that he has been the subject of recent attacks on his assessment of the value of the Pradoville 2 lands, Goolsarran nevertheless stood by his position.
He adverted to the forensic audit report of government holding company NICIL which he had undertaken wherein it was stated that the estimated market value for the Pradoville 2 Scheme was $1.24 billion or $82.8 million per acre.
He pointed out that the calculation was based on the following:
- a) An independent and professional valuation of $985 million for the 15-acre plot on which the Marriott Hotel was built. Both swathes are waterfront lands of around the same acreage.
- b) The cost of removal and relocation of the NCN transmission tower and other associated costs of $185.5 million.
- c) The cost of developmental works totalling $71.49 million including the construction of a road and the building of water infrastructure.
Goolsarran said that using the figure of $82.8 million as the estimated market value per acre, the cost of a house lot of the size of 0.3030 acre would work out to approximately $25.088 million, compared with $1.515 million paid by some of the recipients, a difference of $23.573 million.
He noted that NICIL, however, disputed the calculations, especially as regards the inclusion of the cost of removal and relocation of the NCN transmission tower. Goolsarran said NICIL contended that the management of the Ogle Airport had approached the then president over the concerns of the NCN transmission tower being in the flight path of aircraft using the airport, and a request was made for the transmission tower to be lowered and/or relocated.
“However, no documentary evidence was produced to substantiate this claim nor was there any reference in any of NICIL’s board minutes or Cabinet’s decisions in relation to this matter,” Goolsarran asserted.
He said that former prime minister, Sam Hinds, is reported to have stated that since the days of the late president Cheddi Jagan, representation was made for the lowering or removal of the said transmission tower.
“Recently, the Opposition Leader [Jagdeo] made a similar statement and indicated that he is in possession of letters dating back to 2004 from the Ogle Airport authorities. However, despite these representations, the transmission tower was not lowered, or removed and relocated, with no apparent adverse effect on the operations of the Airport. It was only after the decision was taken to develop Pradoville 2 that this was done,” Goolsarran said.
Considering the sequence of events, he said that the forensic audit report concluded that the removal and relocation of the tower was done to facilitate the housing development of the area. Further, instead of accumulating all the costs associated with the Sparendaam project in a special account to be applied in computing the price to be charged per house lot, “NICIL and Cabinet were complicit” in charging the related expenditure to NCN in the form of equity investment, and to the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA) in the form of a receivable. The audit report had also said that the fact that the majority of the 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 of $257.049 million to NCN and CH&PA.
Goolsarran said that even if one were to exclude the cost of removal and relocation of the NCN transmission tower from the total cost of Pradoville 2, the difference between the computed market value and the actual price paid for a house lot of the size of 0.3030 acre, would amount to $19.826 million.
He pointed out that the government’s housing programme is not geared to benefit those who have already acquired their own homes, and, by that same principle one cannot dispose of his/her property in the hope of benefiting from such a programme.
“However, an examination of the list of persons who are beneficiaries of house lots at Pradoville 2, indicates clearly that the above principles were set aside. The allocation was not based on need since several of the recipients are the current owners of properties.
“Since Pradoville 2 is a Government-sponsored housing programme, there should have been a high degree of transparency in the allocation of house lots as well as strict adherence to the principles outlined above. However, it could not be determined what criteria were used in the allocation process, and from an examination of the list of recipients, it is evident that the beneficiaries were pre-selected handpicked persons.
In the circumstances, one cannot help but to conclude that Pradoville 2 was not designed to assist those in need but to facilitate the personal enrichment of the few at the expense of the majority,” Goolsarran declared.