Months after almost two dozen persons, including former President Bharrat Jagdeo and some of his former ministers, faced questioning by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) over the allocation of lands at ‘Pradoville 2’and the subsequent disclosure that the investigation was completed, the legal minds reviewing the case have not yet issued their final decision.
The questioning and, in some cases arrests, of some top PPP officials and their close friends and affiliates dominated headlines for days. It was expected that some of them would be heading to court in a matter of days.
SOCU handed over the file to the police legal advisor, retired judge Claudette Singh, more than two months ago. Sunday Stabroek was recently informed that the file is still at her office. It is unclear what is causing the delay. Additionally, she is still reviewing several other files from SOCU regarding other investigations.
In addition to her, the team of special prosecutors that the government had created and the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) have to peruse the file. The DPP has to make the final decision with regards to any laying of charges. Once that decision is made, the file would then be returned to SOCU for it to take the necessary action, which will result in the matter being taken to court.
Observers have repeatedly questioned why this particular matter is taking such a lengthy time to be completed, particularly given the publicity surrounding the arrests and questioning. While it is being acknowledged that questioning those involved was necessary, concern has been expressed at the length of time it is taking for the legal minds to make final recommendations. There is a belief that all angles are being looked at with a view to laying charges. This newspaper was told that SOCU has recommended charges for several of the persons questioned but it is unclear who those persons are as well as what are the proposed charges.
A special investigation of the Sparendaam Hous-ing Project, which was part of a larger probe of the financial operations of the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA), 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 PPP/C 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 report added that the awardees made payments to the CH&PA but these were significantly lower than the market value. “No files were maintained by CH&PA 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, including DPP Shalimar Ali-Hack and former army head Gary Best.
The forensic audit, found that the awardees grossly underpaid for the lots by a total of nearly $250 million, while the state-owned National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL), National Communications Network (NCN) and Guyana Power and Light Inc (GPL) 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 (Ali) 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 said.
The report added that the awardees made payments to the CH&PA but these were significantly lower than the market value.
Jagdeo; Luncheon; Persaud; Lisaveta Ramotar, who is the General Manager of the Guyana Gold Board and daughter of former president Donald Ramotar; Ramesh Dookhoo, former Chairman of the Private Sector Commission; Dr Ghansham Singh; Marcia Nadir-Sharma, former Deputy Director of state holding company NICIL; former prime minister Samuel Hinds; former housing minister Al; Rohee, Manickchand; former Chief Executive Officer of the Guyana Water Incorporated Shaik Baksh; Westford; former presidential press officer Kwame McCoy; former head of the Office for Climate Change Andrew Bishop; Ali-Hack and her husband, Moeen ul-Hack; and Best were all taken in for questioning.
Concerns have been raised about the office of the DPP’s involvement in the matter given that the DPP herself is a subject of the investigation.