The Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into African ancestral lands and other matters yesterday heard that land where the controversial Pradoville 2 scheme sits was transferred in 1920 by way of transport to the predecessor of NCN, the British Guiana Broadcasting Company (BGBC).
The CoI also heard that the lots in the controversial ‘Pradoville 2’ Housing Scheme were never “sold or legally” exchanged by the National Communication Network (NCN).
This was revealed by Assistant Commissioner of Police and Head of the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU), Sydney James who testified before the CoI on the forensic audits carried out by SOCU into Pradoville 2, the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CHPA) and the National Industrial and Commercial Investments (NICIL).
The CoI, chaired by Reverend George Chuck-A-Sang, with Professor Rudolph James, Berlinda Persaud, David James, Paulette Henry, Lennox Caleb and Carol Khan-James is tasked with examining and making recommendations to resolve all the issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual, joint or communal ownership of land acquired by freed Africans, Amerindian titling and other matters relative to land titling.
He told the commission that from December 2015 to March 2017 three forensic audit reports which had land related issues were referred from the Government to the Commissioner of Police and then to SOCU so that investigations could be carried out.
James stated that a forensic audit conducted NICIL was carried out by Dr. Anand Goolsarran while audits on the CHPA and the Sparendaam housing project commonly referred to as “Pradoville 2” were done by Christopher Ram.
Asked by attorney Darren Wade, who is standing in for Ayana McCalmon, what the investigations unearthed, Sydney James said that as it relates to NICIL, more than 67 land related and separate matters were referred to SOCU. Of that amount, he said that more than 28 have been completed and submitted for legal advice.
As it pertains to Pradoville 2, the Assistant Commissioner of Police said that while the investigation has been completed, the file is currently with the police legal advisor, retired Justice Claudette Singh. Concerning investigations into the CHPA, he informed that a number of investigations were referred which are still ongoing.
Sydney James was also questioned by Wade as to whether the investigations into Pradoville 2 revealed any evidence as it relates to the individual, joint or communal ownership of land acquired by the freed African slaves.
In response, James said that he spoke to a Plaisance resident, Fitzroy McKenzie who produced documents purporting to show that the area encompassing Goedverwagting and Plaisance was purchased in the early 1800s by 65 formerly enslaved persons.
He stated that he would have since advised McKenzie to report and bring the documents to the commission. Asked by Wade whether he was in possession of the documents shown to him by McKenzie, Sydney James answered in the negative.
As it relates to the other lands that were subjects of investigations by SOCU, the Assistant Police Commissioner informed the commission that the “subject of titles was part of our investigations.” He added that in his statement submitted to the commission he would have pointed out that there were a number of discrepancies relating to the vesting of those lands which showed that there was no “proper vesting order or other instruments effective to remove the ownership of the land from NCN.”
He was then asked by Wade whether based on his investigations and the documents shown by McKenzie whether the lands were transferred from the formerly enslaved persons to NCN.
James reiterated that based on their investigations, a transport dated November 4th, 1920 indicated that 15.25 acres was transferred to the British Guiana Broadcasting Company (BGBC). “Based on our investigations, it was transferred from the BGBC to NCN. There was a vesting order…made by President Bharrat Jagdeo on the 5th February, 2004 dissolving BGBC and transferring their assets to NCN and NICIL”. He went on to state that the Pradoville 2 area was among the assets transferred by the former President to NCN.
Meanwhile, Commissioner, Professor Rudolph James stated that the goal of the commission is to “establish whether Goedverwagting was bought by the ancestors and from that determine the state of ownership.”
Commissioner Lennox Caleb also queried whether the discrepancies in the sale prices of the lands in the Pradoville 2 area would have been a “subject of interest” to the unit, to which Sydney James replied, “yes”.
On Monday, a significant portion of the hearings was dedicated to questions surrounding the allocation of lands in the Pradoville 2 scheme.
Director of Operations at CHPA, Denise Tudor had told the commission that she could not say whether there was any breach in the protocol in the access of the lands although she admitted that the application for the lands did not follow the normal procedure.
According to Tudor, the records for Pradoville were not done in the usual manner and so the documentation was not in her department.
Further, under examination by Wade, she stated that she is unaware of former President of Guyana Bharrat Jagdeo being allotted two plots of land.