Businessman Terrence Campbell last week told the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into the operations of City Hall that he is convinced that the administration is operating in a manner that would force him to either bribe its officers or continue to lose millions, as his plans to expand his various businesses continue to be stymied.
The CoI, which is conducting public hearings at the Critchlow Labour College, is being led by retired judge Cecil Kennard and is looking into the administration and operations of the Georgetown Mayor and City Council, following numerous complaints to the Local Government Commission.
Campbell told the CoI that over the last four years, he has made four applications to the City Engineer’s Department on behalf of himself, CAMEX Limited and Camex Restaurants, which includes the Church’s Chicken franchise.
The first of these applications was made on January 2nd, 2014, and the most recent in August, 2017, but despite the intervention of former Deputy Mayor Lionel Jaikaran, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), and several other members of the business community, none of these applications have been approved.
The January 2nd, 2014 application, indicated Campbell’s intention to construct in South Ruimveldt, while the July 27th, 2015 application, related to an extension of the current building located at Camp Street. In 2016, another plan was submitted for works on a residential property in Lamaha Gardens and a request was made for permission to operate out of an existing building on Croal Street, Stabroek, none of which received responses.
In relation to the Croal Street building, Campbell lamented that he “never sold a piece of chicken and lost 30 million dollars.”
He explained that CAMEX had entered into two arrangements; one with SINO Fast Foods to take over the business, and the other with the building’s owners to take over the lease.
“Usually when we take over an ongoing restaurant, there is no requirement for permission to operate as a restaurant,” he explained, before noting that “immediately as we took over, the Mayor, Town Clerk and City Engineer showed up to say the building had no permission to operate as a restaurant.”
According to Campbell, after the visit, he submitted an application on September 15th, 2016, which is still to be approved. Submissions on the same property to other entities have, however, been approved. The Central Housing and Planning Authority approved his application in January 2017, and the Guyana Water Inc granted its approval in July 2017.
Notably, the application to GWI was made through City Hall, which forwarded the plans to the utility.
“It is either a decision by the City Engineer’s Department or the council that no application for me is going to be processed, or gross negligence or both,” Campbell posited, while describing his frustrations.
He went on to note that he has been told by other businessmen that the matter could be easily resolved if he were to do certain things. He stressed, however, that he would rather lose $30 million than pay a cent in a bribe.
“I am sure I would be operating and be selling thousands of pieces of chicken but I will not pay a cent in bribe. The system is set up to have you pay a bribe or suffer huge losses like I have done,” the businessman testified.
He explained that monies were spent on renting the building to the tune of $1.2 million per month for well over a year, renovations to bring the building up to CAMEX standards and then repairs to return it to its pre-CAMEX state once he terminated the lease.
Additionally, he had to pay a fine for terminating a long-term lease early and is now being sued by the operator of SINO for $4.5 million.
Also recently, a second company, MCG Investments, attempted to blame a collapsed deal with Town Clerk Royston King for its failure to pay rates and taxes for the period 2015 to 2017.
MCG Investments is the holding company for Giftland Mall and is led by Roy Beepat. General Consultant, Ray Hugh, speaking on behalf of Beepat, stated that in 2017, a demand notice was sent to the company for $44.25 million in unpaid rates and taxes, interest and penalties.
He went on to note that in November, 2017, Beepat met with and entered into an agreement with King that rates and taxes for the years 2015 and 2016, as well as interest and penalties would be waived.
Additionally, interest and penalties for 2017 were also waived and MCG was required to only pay the principal for 2017, which amounted to little more than $11 million.
According to Hugh, the Town Clerk was to put this agreement in writing after which Beepat was to provide a payment schedule and then make payments. None of this occurred despite a letter from MCG to King on November 10th, reminding him that he was to confirm the agreement.
Subsequently, on April 3, 2018, MCG received communication from the Town Clerk which said their discussion was no longer relevant due to the length of elapsed time without payment. They were offered a meeting with Chairman of the Finance Committee Oscar Clarke, who had agreed to meet with them to settle their debt to the city.
King also sent a further communication which indicated that council had decided to waive certain interests and MCG now owed $25 million. Still no payments were made.
Hugh was challenged as to why the company made no payments and maintained that without an agreement in force such action would not have been prudent.
He was, however, reminded that payments of rates and taxes is a statutory requirement. “Using your logic every citizen in Georgetown can say there isn’t an agreement, so we won’t pay,” the legal representative of the CoI stated.