Trevor Benn slapped with another misconduct in public office charge
Sale of State lands to car dealer
Former Head of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC), Trevor Benn, was on Wednesday slapped with another charge for misconduct in public office; this time, over the sale of State lands to a former GL&SC board member who is the owner of Car Care Enterprise, Wilfred Brandford.
Benn has been arraigned before Principal Magistrate Sherdel Isaacs-Marcus at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts. The charge he faces allege that between December 1, 2018 and August 31, 2019, at GL&SC, Georgetown, while being a public officer, Benn willfully misconduct himself by executing a sale of two parcels of land, known as Parcel 4725, being a mutation of Parcel 4716 L.R.B No XXX and Parcel 4805 being the mutation of former Parcel 4779, all being a portion of Middle Walk, Plantation Ruimveldt, Georgetown.
The charge further stated that Benn caused Brandford to pay the sum $13.5 million to GL&SC for the said lands, knowing at the time he did not have the authority to sell the lands, and knowing that the said plot of land had been earlier valued at the sum of $60.8 million, which amounted to his wilful misconduct and a breach of the public’s trust, without any excuse or reasonable justification.
Benn, who was represented by Attorney-at-law Mark Waldron, was not required to plead to the indictable charge. He was granted $100,000 bail.
On March 12, 2020, Benn was slapped with a charge of misconduct in public office in relation to the leasing of some six acres of unmarked lands at Ogle, East Coast Demerara (ECD). That charge stated that between January 1, 2018 and March 31, 2020, while being a public officer at the Lands and Surveys Commission, Benn wilfully misconducted himself by causing $27 million to be paid by Janico Vide Industrial Engineering Limited for the lease of six acres of land at Plantation Ogle, East Coast Demerara, knowing at the time that the GL&SC did not have the authority to lease the land.
“…and thereby granted a provisional lease on March 27, 2020 to the said Janico Vide Industrial Engineering Limited without any description, the said wilful misconduct amounting to a breach of the public’s trust, without any excuse or reasonable justification,” the charge further stated.
This charge is also indictable. Benn was granted $200,000 bail by Senior Magistrate Leron Daly.
The former GL&SC Head was arrested in March as the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) was called in to probe the leasing of the State lands. Benn has since maintained his innocence, and has been labelling the charges against him “nonsensical”.
Concerning the leasing of lands to Janico Vide Industrial Engineering Limited, it is unclear what the $27M payment was for, since a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between Benn and the company also included a rental fee of $200,000 annually for six acres of land, which was leased for 50 years.
The MoU states, “The purpose of this MoU is to…confirm the intent and commitment of the GL&SC and the Company for the leasing of the said 6 acres of land, owned by the Government of Guyana as part of the stock of State Land, and upon payment of $27,000,000,00…for the development of commercial, industrial and real estate activities.”
But there is no procedure under the State Lands Act that allows for a MoU to be signed before a lease or provisional lease is granted. Moreover, acting Commissioner of GL&SC, Enrique Monize, had stated in correspondence to Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, that upon research, he was unable to determine any vacant, available land under the control of the Commission at the location agreed upon.
This issue came to light following the examination of the transaction by the current GL&SC administration after they received a legal notice from the company’s lawyers in December 2020, demanding the six acres of land be handed over.
Based on the agreement signed, Janico Vide Industrial Engineering Limited, which is located at Ruimveldt, Georgetown, was obligated to make the payments in two instalments of $13.5 million – the first upon the signing of the MoU and the balance in November 2017, or upon the receipt of the lease.
In a letter dated December 22, 2020, the law firm of Hughes, Fields & Stoby disclosed that “…it was agreed by the MOA (Ministry of Agriculture) that the consideration for the said lease would be the sum of $27M…” The lawyers noted this sum was paid in full as per the MoU; that is, the first payment on May 4, 2017, and the second on March 27, 2020.
Despite this, however, the lawyers said, the company has not received the lands.
Shortly after, the Police were called in to investigate the matter. Benn, who was appointed Head of the GL&SC under the previous APNU/AFC Government, was sent packing shortly after the PPP/C assumed office.
In August 2020, President Dr. Irfaan Ali revoked several key powers of the Land Commissioner, which included the authority to rent public lands and grant new leases, and licences. (G1)