COMMISSIONER of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC), Trevor Benn, who served under the former A Partnership For National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) administration, was, on Wednesday, slapped with another charge for misconduct in public office.
The charge pertains to the sale of two parcels of land– 4,725 and 4,805– all being a portion of Plantation Ruimveldt, to Wilfred Brandford, a former member of the Board of Directors of the GL&SC, who was serving in the position at the time of the transaction.
The charge states that the parcels of land were sold to Brandford for $13.5 million, when the land was initially valued at a sum of over $60 million.
Benn appeared before Senior Magistrate, Sherdel Isaac-Marcus, at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court. He was not required to plead to the charge and was granted bail in the sum of $100,000.
The charge against him read that, Benn, between December 1, 2018 and August 31, 2020 at the GL&SC, being the Commissioner of the GL&SC, allegedly wilfully misconducted himself by executing the sale of the two parcels of land, and causing Brandford to pay the sum of $13.5 million for the said lands.
He allegedly did so while knowing, at the time, that he did not have the authority to sell the lands and knowing that the lands had been earlier valued at $60.8 million dollars. Consequently, the alleged wilful misconduct amounted to a breach of the public’s trust, without any excuse or reasonable justification.
Benn is represented by attorney-at-law, Mark Waldron, and is expected to make his next court appearance, pertaining to this matter, on May 28, 2021.
It was previously reported that Brandford was issued a Certificate of Title No. 2020/11 for the said parcels of land, dated April 15, 2020, pursuant to an Agreement of Sale and Purchase, dated March 23, 2020, which was executed with the Government of Guyana, represented by the GL&SC through then Commissioner, Benn.
The parcels comprise 0.710 and 0.887 acres, respectively. Benn had obtained two valuations for the said parcels of land; the first valuation was of $60.8 million, while the second was for $13.5 million, however, he chose the latter as the mutually agreed purchase price.
Earlier this year, in February, Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, S.C., on behalf of the GL&SC and the Government of Guyana, wrote to Brandford asking him to relinquish undervalued lands he obtained weeks after the March 2, 2020 elections.
The Attorney-General has since initiated legal proceedings to recover the prime piece of property. In his application to the court, which lists Benn as a defendant, Nandlall contends negligence, misfeasance, fraud and conspiracy to injure the state by unlawful means through the execution of the transaction.
On March 12, Benn was released on $200,000 bail when he appeared before Magistrate Leron Daly at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court pertaining to a misconduct in public office charge, which was instituted in connection with the alleged illegal leasing of State lands.
That charge alleges that between January 1, 2018, and March 31, 2020, while being a public officer, the Commissioner of GL&SC, he wilfully misconducted himself by causing the sum of $27 million to be paid by JANICO Industrial Engineering Limited for the lease of six acres of land at Plantation Ogle, East Coast Demerara.
It was also alleged that he did so knowing at the time that the commission did not have the authority to lease the land and thereby granted a provisional lease on March 27, 2020, to the said engineering company without any description. This alleged wilful misconduct amounts to a breach of the public’s trust, without any excuse or reasonable justification.
It was reported that the $27 million was paid pursuant to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) entered into by Benn on behalf of GL&SC and JANICO Industrial Engineering Limited on May 8, 2017, for the leasing of State lands that are seemingly non-existent.
As part of the agreement, JANICO Industrial Engineering Limited was obligated to pay $27 million to GL&SC in two installments: one upon the signing of the MoU, and the balance on or before November 4, 2017 or the date of issuance of the lease, whichever was the earlier.
JANICO Industrial Engineering Limited was granted a provisional lease, dated March 27, 2020, which stated that permission was granted to JANICO Industrial Engineering Limited for “industrial and commercial purpose.” The provisional lease further states that “final boundaries will be established upon the completion of a cadastral survey by the commission.”
The law firm representing JANICO Industrial Engineering Limited had written to the current Commissioner of the GL&SC (ag) Enrique Monize, in December last year, indicating that both installments were paid in full, however, despite several months elapsing, a full State Land Lease was not issued.
Monize, on January 28, 2021, wrote to the Attorney-General seeking guidance on the matter. In that letter, he explained that there are no such lands under the control of GL&SC.