SOCU File Charges against MP Irfaan Ali: Alleges he Undervalued Pradoville2 Lands by $(G)250 million: Really!

SOCU File Charges against  MP Irfaan Ali: Alleges he Undervalued Pradoville2 Lands by $(G)250 million: Really!
Photo : Dr. Tara Singh

The 19 charges filed against former PPP Minister of Housing and Tourism didn’t come as a surprise to most observers of the Guyanese political scene. Only two weeks ago the controversial Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan reportedly threatened Irfaan at Parliament with the impending charges. This was the same Minister who had said that they (coalition government) already knew the result of the so-called third term Presidential case that was heard earlier in the year by the Caribbean Court of Justice. Again, it was proven that Ramjattan’s verdict was correct. This was the very Minister who went to a restaurant in early 2017 with a British advisor to celebrate the arrests of many PPP operatives.

It is always appropriate to put things into perspective. We don’t know how SOCU (Special Organized Crime Unit) came up with the figure of $(US)250 million as undervaluation for the Pradoville 2 swamp lands. Irfaan Ali will refute those charges at trial. But let’s examine the Sussex Street House that was used as a pharmaceutical bond by the Ministry of Health. That facility was not certified by the Food and Drug Department; the justification for its establishment was to store “emergency” pharmaceutical products, when there was no emergency, as the bond stored mainly condoms, lubricants and a few other items. The amount payable by the government to their political investor who owns the “bond” was more than 3 times the market value. We have been informed that the political investor received over $(G) 450 million, which means that at least $(G) 300 million represented overpayment. That act represents a calculated effort at theft of state resources using a legal but perverse method. Would SOCU go after the perpetrators? This sum is much more than the allegation (of $G 250 m) against Irfaan Ali.  

There are many other examples. The HDM Lab deal was another example of glaring theft of state assets.  That was for the supply of “emergency” drugs which took over 6 months to be delivered. A bidder that was not awarded the contract came in with a price much lower than HDM Lab. In fact, their price was lower than HDM Lab by almost $(US) 1 million (or $G 210 million). HDM Lab was another political investor that has been rewarded with state assets. These two cases are great examples of white collar crimes. There are many others.  

              We know that SOCU’s mission has changed dramatically. It was established by the PPP to investigate drug trafficking and money laundering. To date, no significant drug case has been investigated by SOCU and brought to trial. Instead, SOCU has been mandated to investigate alleged acts of corruption by PPP operatives. None of the 50+ cases of corruption against the coalition government operatives has come under their investigative radar.   

The current differential enforcement of the law suggests the development of a police state and an erosion of the constitution. One of the major bulwarks of freedom is the doctrine of Separation of Powers. SOCU operates as an arm of the Public Security Ministry rather than as part of the Guyana Police Force that is supposed to be an independent body. In fact, there is little evidence to suggest that the Commissioner of Police has direct authority over SOCU. If the Public Security Minister knows of, or is aware what the outcome of a case would be, then there is likely collaboration and interference. Most Guyanese know that there is political interference in the operations of SOCU, as well as, in all government agencies. They also know that SOCU is not acting independently as it should. They know further that SOCU goes after only PPP operatives. They know that despite numerous cases of corruption against the APNU-AFC coalition, SOCU will not go after coalition members. It took months of pressure from the PPP before SOCU decided to investigate the Demerara Bridge sole source feasibility contract. And when several private criminal charges were filed by the PPP, the Director of Public Prosecutions said that those charges should have been filed first with the Police Force, as part of a process of good governance. Really! What example of “good governance” has the coalition shown so far?

What is extremely disappointing is that the coalition, having informed the Guyanese people in 2015 that they are serious about introducing constitutional reforms as their number one agenda item, which also means that they embrace Separation of Powers, has abandoned constitutional reform and instead violate various provisions of the existing constitution (e.g., seizing lands legitimately acquired, the unilateral appointment of GECOM Chair, etc.). It should be noted that the coalition stated in their manifesto that within one year in office, they will table a draft constitutional reform bill for debate in Parliament. No such bill is on the horizon.  

Let’s clarify the PPP housing program as there is much misunderstanding. The PPP adopted five different programs of housing for the population of which Pradoville 2 has been one, and each category has been given generous government subsidies. That was the standard government policy irrespective who were the beneficiaries. These target groups included the (i) Turn Key Homes (2011-2015) for low income and middle-income families, (ii) the Core Homes (2010-2012) and the Hinterland Pilot Homes (2010-2014) for low income families, (iii) the Young Professional Homes (2012-2015), (iv) the Re-Migrant Housing (2012-2015) for Guyanese Diasporans, and (v) Pradoville 2 which targeted senior government officials, professionals and government ministers.

Prior to 2009, the Ministry of Housing had concentrated mainly on the distribution of house lots and in regularizing squatter communities. From then (2009) onwards, the Ministry broke away from that tradition and began to focus, in addition to house lots, housing units. The total house-lots distributed between 1993 to 2014 was 112,761. An additional, 15,191 house

lots were distributed through the Ministry’s squatter’s regularization program. This achievement nullifies the persistent arguments advanced by certain groups on ethnic marginalization. These house lots and housing units were distributed based on need and fair ethnic balance.

                                                                            The PPP government provided both a direct subsidy (for the land) and an indirect subsidy (for infrastructure such as roads, bridges, water distribution and electrical networks).  Between 2000 and 2010 the land subsidy totaled GY$5.9 billion while the indirect subsidy covering all income groups amounted to GY$21.7 billion, of which over 80% (GY$17.6 billion) were allocated to the lower income households. 

The previous Burnham PNC government’s housing plan which provided for the building of 65,000 housing units between 1972 and 1976, produced only 4,167 units (or 6.5%). Coalition government Minister Ronald Bulkan has promised to build 10,000 housing units in 5 years. They also plan to construct 3,300 apartment units and 1000 duplex houses [of which 26 were completed and handed over to owners at Perseverance, East Bank Demerara). President David Granger said that they have built houses (but didn’t say how many) at Sebai, Whitewater, Kwatamang and Massara.  His government also claimed that they completed 60 elevated concrete houses. In addition, the coalition government plans to make residential and commercial lots accessible to overseas Guyanese even if they are not ready to return to live in Guyana. Under the new policy, persons who buy house lots would have up to three years to build, and they cannot sell these lots until after 10 years. There is no evidence to suggest that the PNC-led government has built more than 200 homes so far in 3 ½ years. 

 The PPP government’s achievement in the housing sector far outstripped that of the 28-year old PNC government, and on a pro-rated basis has also outstripped the 3 ½ year old PNC-led government. The PPP’s outstanding performance in the housing sector led by Irfaan Ali has also resulted in the reduction of poverty and marginalization in Guyana. No amount of persecution will alter the facts.