Bombshell revelations: a chronicle of nepotism, corrupt practices, wanton spending by APNU/AFC
100 days of discoveries
The return of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) to power on August 2, 2020, symbolically restored democracy to Guyana – just as it did in 1992 when the party won the first free and fair elections in the country, bringing an end to 28 years of dictatorial rule by the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR).
But even with this new ray of hope and eager ambition to continue to transform the country, the new Dr Irfaan Ali-led Administration was confronted with ghastly revelations of activities conducted under the previous PNC-led APNU/AFC Administration that pushed the country’s developmental track backwards.
From blatant nepotism to corrupt deals and enormously excessive spending, all under five years – experts argue that it is no wonder the David Granger-regime desperately tried to cling on to power in spite of its massive defeat at the March 2, 2020 polls.
Ocean View exposé
Upon its return to office, the PPP/C Administration was first confronted with the controversial $1 billion Ocean View Hotel rehabilitation which was hurriedly ignited during the waning days of the APNU/AFC coalition.
More specifically, the new Government was confronted with the bombshell revelation that the former Administration had spent over $1 billion to renovate the hotel into a COVID-19 hospital even though it never properly acquired the property from the owner, Wilfred Rambarran, who wasted no time in submitting a letter to the Health Minister, Dr Frank Anthony, demanding that he be paid some $13 million per month for the use of the facility for a period of 12 months, as per an arrangement he had with the Granger Government.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall had expressed that this exposé amounted to criminal conduct since “hundreds of millions of dollars were drawn from the Consolidated Fund for a capital project without parliamentary approval.” He has only contended that “$1.6 billion was apparently spent on a property that is not even owned by the Government”.
To make matters worse, Rambarran is a known associate of the APNU/AFC and at the time of the deal, the Granger Government kept the details tightly hidden from the public.
Compounding the situation is that even though millions were expended on the project, the facility was still not close to being fit for an infectious disease hospital, causing the Health Minister to describe the undertaking as a “total disaster”.
In fact, millions had been budgeted in the PPP/C’s Emergency Budget for 2020 to remedy the facility to make it operational.
Days after settling into office, the new Administration was bombarded with reports of a major unregulated operation, suspected to be a Ponzi scheme, that swindled millions of dollars out of thousands of Guyanese.
The scheme, operating under the company Accelerated Capital Firm Incorporated (ACFI), was ongoing under the Granger Government but nothing was ever done to investigate the suspicious transactions and protect the citizenry from this massive fraud.
After being inundated with reports and complaints from citizens that they had invested millions and that they were not getting their returns, the Government promptly launched an investigation which unearthed the suspected Ponzi scheme.
In another bombshell revelation, it was discovered that the then Minister of Citizenship, Winston Felix, had granted citizenship to the Cuban national, Yuri Garcia-Dominguez, even though he had received reports of the individual being involved in unlawful activities.
Felix had, however, denied knowledge of the Ponzi scheme, but this was not supported by available documents which revealed that the Guyana Securities Council had written to him, warning that “it has discovered two illegal investment schemes (pyramid-like) apparently run by Yuri Garcia-Dominguez and Ateeka Ishmael… these two parties have apparently used two companies to assist in their scheme, namely; Accelerated Wealth Inc of Lot 10 First Street Industry and Forex Trade, a registered business of the same address.”
The Ponzi scheme was allowed to grow, resulting in a disastrous situation that had to be quickly addressed by the new Administration. Today, the Cuban national and his Guyanese wife are before the courts on over 70 charges for obtaining monies under false pretence. They are said to have obtained over $200 million. Moreover, the couple – who has rejected the charges and claims that their operations are illegal – is also being investigated for money laundering.
The PPP/C Administration could not catch a break as yet another bombshell revelation was made in August, whereby senior APNU/AFC member Christopher Jones – who was Director of Sports at the time – questionably received $4.9 million worth of barbershop equipment under a Government programme that aimed to promote entrepreneurship among young people who do not have the means for such ventures.
Audit documents had revealed that approval was not granted from the National Procurement and Tender Administration Board (NPTAB) for the procurement of a Condensing Unit valuing $1.528 million which formed part of the $4.9 million worth of items Jones acquired.
Additionally, the audit found that the items purchased were not put to the intended use as they were stored in a room at the residence of Jones.
This prompted ranks of the Guyana Police Force (GPF) to visit Jones’ house in a bid to retrieve the State assets, resulting in a heated confrontation between APNU/AFC senior officials, coalition supporters and law enforcement officials.
Jones was eventually arrested and released on bail. Crime Chief Wendell Blanhum had told this newspaper that Police investigations found that Jones would have made false representation to the Social Protection Ministry in order to be eligible for the Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) programme under which he was granted the barbershop equipment.
At that time, former Chief Whip of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Amna Ally was overseeing that Ministry – a party to which Jones is an executive member.
Jobs for the boys
The mega-salaries of political appointees were a number of bombshell revelations that came under the spotlight when the new PPP/C Administration assumed office.
PNCR supporter Larry London was one of many who seemingly benefited from specially-created positions which saw him raking in millions of dollars. London was employed by the former Government as Director of Parks, with a net salary of $500,000 per month and his electricity, internet and telephone bills paid by the State. Further, he benefited from duty-free allowance for the highest grade of vehicles, and a gratuity of 22.5 per cent every six months. All the while, London hardly spent any time in Guyana.
London was also the beneficiary of the multimillion-dollar contract for the printing of birth certificates under the previous Government. London is listed as one of the Directors of a Florida-based company called Universal Procurement Services Inc which was sole-sourced for the printing of some 500,000 birth certificates.
London was previously involved in the controversial D’Urban Park project where $1 billion was spent by the Granger Government which cannot account for the spending of the funds. London was the co-owner of the company, Homestretch Development Incorporated (HDI), which was used by the Government to build the D’Urban Park. Efforts by the Audit Office of Guyana to figure out how the monies were spent over the past few years have been futile.
Local Government and Regional Development Minister Nigel Dharamlall also stumbled upon a bombshell revelation whereby some $800 million was collectively being paid to over 50 contracted workers of the then Communities Ministry headed by APNU/AFC’s Ronald Bulkan. What’s worse is that there is no evidence of the work they had done during their time at the Ministry.
Some of these individuals were Oscar Clarke, who was named special ministerial advisor with a salary of $418,674 with a $25,000 non-taxable duty allowance and a $15,000 telephone allowance per month.
Rupert Hopkinson, the former controversial Regional Executive Officer for Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam), was employed as a special advisor who earned $376,807 per month with a non-taxable allowance of $70,000 and telephone allowance of $10,000, every month.
APNU/AFC’s Ganesh Mahipaul was on the Ministry’s payroll with a salary of $210,982 per month and a non-taxable duty allowance of $10,000 per month for being a Community Development Officer of Region Three. It is unclear what Mahipaul was actually doing as a Community Development Officer.
Former APNU/AFC Member of Parliament Barbara Pilgrim was also on the payroll receiving $210,982 per month, a $10,000 non-taxable duty allowance and a $10,000 telephone allowance.
Interestingly, senior member of the APNU/AFC coalition, Joseph Harmon was earning $900,000 per month plus benefits as Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency. The former David Granger Administration had created the post of Director General specifically for Harmon after he was forced to resign as a Member of Parliament and ultimately as the Minister of State in 2019. In addition to his salary, Harmon received a non-taxable duty allowance of $250,000 per month; a non-taxable entertainment allowance of $100,000 per month; a non-taxable maid allowance of $128,400 per month; and a non-taxable gardener allowance of $65,000 per month.
Moreover, his housing, telephone bills, internet bills, electricity bills, and security were paid for by the State. He also received a motor car and driver provided by the State or duty-free concession of up to 4000cc per three years period.
Harmon was also benefiting from a gratuity of 22.5 per cent of his basic salary every six months.
Perhaps the latest and most egregious bombshell revelation made by the PPP/C is the massive land giveaways conducted under the former APNU/AFC Administration where large tracts of prime State lands were frantically distributed to known associates of the party as well as to legitimate businesses, unbeknownst to them.
About five companies that were vested lands by the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) have since returned those to the State, in a bid for a more transparent process. The lands were vested to them under controversial and nontransparent circumstances – and in some cases, unbeknownst to the investors. In fact, in many of the cases, former Finance Minister Winston Jordan had, during the controversial period after the March 2 polls, signed vesting orders even though the companies had made little to no down payments for the lands.
Apart from this, it was also revealed that senior member of the PNCR, James Bond had received US$1 million for prime lands at Peters Hall on the East Bank of Demerara – lands he had flipped. The lands were reportedly leased to Bond for a fraction of that cost.
The scenario with Bond is just one of numerous instances where questionable land deals were struck under the former coalition Government.
A former Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC) Board member paid $12 million for lands at Mandela Avenue in Ruimveldt, Georgetown. The GLSC member was first issued with a lease for the land at a rental of $232,000 per annum and subsequently, the title at a purchase price of $12 million for the plot of land totalling approximately one acre and a half. This value significantly differed from the price paid by other companies for similar properties at the same location. In one case, a city bank paid $85 million for a 0.723-acre plot of land in the same area, and in another, a local shipping company paid a whopping $105 million for an acre plot.
The Government has since launched an extensive investigation into this massive land giveaway – for which the former Finance Minister has since denied any wrongdoing.