AG moves to recover lands improperly sold to GL&SC board member under APNU/AFC Govt
Government has moved to reclaim parcels of land sold to one individual under the former A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) Government without following the legal process, warning him that failure to give up the land will result in civil and even criminal consequences.
In a letter from Attorney General (AG) and Senior Counsel Anil Nandlall on behalf of the State and the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC), the AG revealed that a GL&SC board member bought the land for a mere $13.5 million, drastically lower than an initial valuation, as well as comparative valuations of similar pieces of land in the area.
The agreement of sale was executed between the GL&SC board member and then Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) Commissioner Trevor Benn, dated March 23, 2020. The AG pointed out that the GL&SC board member, who himself once sat on the G&SC Board, was issued with a certificate of title for two parcels of land at plantation Ruimveldt, dated April 15, 2020.
“The parcels of land were sold to you for a total purchase price of $13.5 million. A review of this transaction and similar such transactions reveal that similar-sized parcels of land in that very vicinity were sold by the Government for as much as $150 million, more than 10 times the price you paid,” the letter from the AG to the GL&SC board member stated.
“This was a fact within the peculiar knowledge or ought to have been within the peculiar knowledge of both you and then Commissioner as both of you served on the Board of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission,” he wrote.
Additionally, Nandlall revealed that the Commissioner had gotten two valuations for the very land the GL&SC board member received. One valued the land at $60 million, while another valued it at $13.5 million.
Additionally, Nandlall pointed out that at the time the former Commissioner entered the agreement, the then President David Granger had not conferred a power on the Commissioner of GL&SC to sell State lands. That power remained vested in the President, thus rendering his title null and void.
In the letter, the GL&SC board member was given a choice – give up the land and be refunded a portion of his money, or be taken to court for compensation, cancellation of the title and to take possession of the land. Additionally, he would face a criminal investigation.
“While you may not in the circumstances be entitled at law to the return of the purchase price paid, in the interest of avoiding legal proceedings… we are prepared to refund an appropriate sum of money to you on the condition that you relinquish all your purported rights, title and interests in the said parcels of land over to and in favour of the State,” Nandlall wrote.
“If you are so inclined, kindly make contact within 14 days of the date hereof, with the Commissioner of GL&SC to finalise the terms of settlement. If you fail to (take up) this offer, civil proceedings will be instituted against you… additionally, the documents will be transmitted to the Guyana Police Force for the commencement of criminal investigations.”
Trevor Benn, who was appointed by the former Government back in 2016, was given his marching orders soon after the new Government took over last year and was terminated with effect from February 4, 2021.
He had been in the spotlight for a slew of land transactions done by the GL&SC under the former Government, which resulted in certificates of titles being issued to persons for lands sold under market value, currently being reviewed by the Ministry of Legal Affairs.
One of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government’s first acts in August was to revoke Benn’s powers to approve and issue leases and licences, or to grant permission for occupancy of State lands. He was then sent on leave, after doing a handover statement to his successor Enrique Monize. This publication was unable to contact Benn for a comment on the transaction. (G3)