Summary of my visit to Lethem – Feb 23, 2016

CONFIDENTIAL MEMO

To: Minister Ronald Bulkan.
From: Mark Jacobs. Chairman, Land Allocation Committee.
Date: 23rd February, 2016.
Subject : Summary of my visit to Lethem.

Dear Sir:

The following is a summary of my activities in Lethem from 19th February to 23rd February, 2016.

I left Georgetown via aircraft with Minister Patterson, CEO Pitt, Head of Land Allocation Mrs. Tudor and the minister’s assistant Delroy.

We met additional members of Central Housing Staff to include Special Assistant to the Minister Remington Nelson, two staff members from the land allocation unit, a surveyor, two drivers, Head of Enforcement Mr. Lord and a few members of the enforcement division.

Register of transport & titles

I looked at a ledger titled ‘Register of Transport & Titles’ in the Housing Office. It has a few hundred pages and space for the entry of thousands of titles. Flipping through the pages the book seemed empty and records entered in an ad hoc manner.

The entries did not begin from the front of the register.

I found approximately 20 entries in the register which the housing officer said should record all titles issued by CHPA in Lethem. Of those 20 records, the Housing Officer said she entered about five into this register. She has a system of keeping track of all the titles she has processed and plan to enter all those into the ledger.

The only records in the office that exist showing person who received titles before this officer took over are hand written notes on some applicant documents. The Officer would have to go through the entire file cabinet to determine how many records have notations showing that titles were received in Lethem by the applicants.

Recommendation :
a complete listing of all titles ever processed by CHPA for Lethem be compiled and turned over by the Land Allocation/Conveyance department to the Land Allocation Unit for review. This listing should start from the beginning of CHPAs involvement in Lethem.
Notice be placed in Lethem & in the media and all persons on list contacted to verify that they do indeed possess a title.
Criminal proceedings be brought against the former housing officer for any titles or transports found to be missing.

Internet

The Regional Housing Office does not have access to internet. The Officer receives multiple daily requests from Georgetown. To satisfy these requests she drives about a quarter mile to Takatu Hotel internet cafe.
She has never claimed these trips as an expense.

On one occasion where internet service was down in Lethem, she drove across the border and sent files to CHPA from Bomfin.

Recommendation:
immediate internet access be made available to the officer.

Missing files

Files are missing from the office that should have been handed over to the housing officer but a more specific case was discussed of a file going missing.

There is a lot assigned to GWI by CHPA for a well. Water was not found on the site but GWI still maintained interest in the location.

The officer did a check of the records after she was informed and verified that someone was building a structure on the said lot. [see additional copies of files attached]

The rumour being circulated is that the property was sold for $21 million. I was unable to verify the origins of this price. However, the records revealed that the said lot was sold to one Kamani Krishand of Susannah Village, East Bank Berbice for $800,000. The files show that the lot was listed as a residential lot and allocated.

A letter dated 12 July 2012 again refers to lot 466 does not mention anything about Guyana Water Inc.

Ms. Joseph said no mention was made of this sale by Yvonne Kissoon and she only found out about it after being informed that someone was building on the GWI lot. The contractor was unable or unwilling to provide her with the information of the owner she was working for.

No one has seen or heard of Kamani Krishand.

There is a passport number on the application and the village listed is on the Corentyne.

Recommendation :
verify that the passport number is valid and that such a person exists.
requests documentation from Krishand if she does exist on her purchase.
investigate whether Krishand is indeed a single mother.
check to see if Krishand was issued a title
begin procedures to reclaim this property and hand it back over to GWI for the original intended purpose.

Security

There are many files missing from the office to include any records of a house lot I was allocated and made an initial payment of $70,000 on in 2014.
Many other persons have complained of not being given receipts for monies and there are no records of those persons in the current records.

A woman who has a receipt for full payment of a house lot made in 2012 also has no records in the office.

Additionally, the officer highlighted one incident where a file for a lot assigned to GWI went ‘missing’ and subsequently reappeared in the office. Records exist showing this lot assigned to GWI [mentioned above] has been sold to a woman from the Corentyne.

Recommendation :
a more robust locking system for the doors of the office needs to be installed and possibly an alarm on the inner office where the file cabinets are kept with titles and all files. The office is on the end of a building in the RDC compound and borders a fence. There was only one security guard on duty in the entire compound.
a thorough inspection of all records in the Lethem office.

Computer

The computer in the office was the same one there when Yvonne Kissoon was housing officer. On the date of handover, the new housing officer discovered that the computer had no files, documents or records saved.

Recommendation :
A new computer be bought for the housing office in Lethem and the CPU currently in use be brought to Georgetown for analysis with the goal of uncovering any files or records that may have been deleted by the previous officer.

Needs of the office

The housing officer said she needs two more filing cabinets and a vehicle.

Recommendation:
To file cabinets be purchased for the office
a 4 x 4 vehicle be purchased for the office

Vehicle

If a vehicle was available, the officer said she could get a lot more work done. At the moment she is using her private vehicle which has taken considerable beating travelling the rough terrain of Region 9.
She does not visit certain places because he vehicle cannot traverse certain areas of the savannahs and some of the trails.

She tried renting a taxi but when calculating the wait times she said the costs she would have to claim would be considerable.

As it is now she claims $2000 per trip which is the going taxi fare every time she has to go out beyond central Lethem. She does not claims all trips and sometimes forget to document some.

Someone in Georgetown recommended she requests a vehicle from the REO and she tried this once but waited all afternoon and was not able to access a vehicle from the REO office [the REO an

She had a meeting with Mrs. Tudor sometime back with the other regional housing officers and it was revealed that a vehicle was purchased to be used by RHOs on a rotational basis.

No details on where the vehicle was and what was the rotational agreement was ever discussed or shared.

Recommendation:
a 4 x 4 vehicle be purchased for the office

Visit with the REO

I visited REO Carl Parker on 22nd February, 2016 in his office. We discussed a number of issues related to housing and housing related issues he wanted to highlight.
His major concerns were dealing with local residents of Lethem who did not have land or were disenfranchised [his term].
Mr. Parker promised to provide me a list of all his concerns which he typed and had saved on a computer. He was currently having issues with the computer and promised to provide me the copy as soon as he had that sorted out.

Recommendation:
none as I have not seen the report compiled by Mr. Parker.

Visit with the assistant secretary of finance

I visited with the Assistance Secretary of Finance Debra Rampersaud on 22nd February about 1PM after speaking with the REO. She is responsible for collecting all monies for CHPA in Region 9.
I was interested in the monies collected over the weekend during the outreach and to ask a few questions on the procedure.
Mrs. Rampersaud acted in a very strange and suspicious manner and I diplomatically ended out meeting.
I asked her to show me documents of what she does on behalf of CHPA but she just verbally explained to me the process and what happens.
Additionally I asked her how many transactions she conducted over the weekend on behalf of CHPA.
She said she did not keep track of such things. I also asked her if she can give me a total monies collected during the outreach. She said four point something.
Mrs. Rampersaud also mentioned that she handled CHPA business for two weeks before the new housing officer was assigned and that she also handled CHPA business before there was any housing officer in the region.
Because of her demeanour I did not question her on any of this.

Recommendation:
an immediate audit of all CHPAs financial records for Region 9
a listing of all payment received from Lethem be produced by the Finance department
Mrs. Rampersaud be asked to prepare a listing of all payments she has received on behalf of CHPA and all her deposit information. These should be done independent of the audit.

Monies collected in Region 9

No one verifies the money collected on behalf of CHPA by Mrs. Rampersaud. On the first day of the outreach as things went late, she may have taken whatever funds were collected to her house.
No one from CHPA counted the money with her or verified the totals she presented and this is a normal occurrence.
The regional housing officer does not count or verify the monies collected by Mrs. Rampersaud as it is not part of her mandate.

Recommendation:
All payments received on behalf of CHPA at any future outreach must be verified by a member of CHPA management on site.
a list of all transactions and cost of each transaction be kept by Mrs. Rampersaud or any other financial officer assigned this task.

Tabatinga Creek

Squatters have built homes and other structures right up to the edge of the Tabatinga Creek. Garbage is being dumped in the creek and if current actions continue there will be no access to the creek in certain areas.

Recommendation:
I am not aware of national policy, but I believe a buffer zone must be created which prevents persons from building or occupying land on the edge of rivers, creeks and waterways. as the region is undergoing a prolonged drought, the protection and preservation of waterways cannot be overlooked.

Kampta Narine

An issue previously engaging the board was that of Mr. Kampta Narine who had occupied ten lots in the commercial zone and attempted to pay for these lots.
The report from the enforcement division is detailed with the various members of Mr. Narine’s family and workers.
minister Patterson and management made a decision to fine and collect payment from Mr. Narine on four lots since he has already completed structures and rented them out to Chinese nationals and others.
It is my view that a fine of $100,000 was too low ant not something the minister or management can arbitrarily administer. It is my understanding that Mr. Narine paid for four lots immediately after being told the price.
Mr. Narine also has a large commercial establishment in Lethem off the commerical zone.

Recommendation:
Board and Minister revisit this matter and create a policy that will guide all future squatting and land grabbing by commercial interests in the commercial zone.
all property in the commercial zone be audited to determine true ownership.

Tabatinga dispute

On 22nd February about 9pm three males approached me and wanted to know why we allowed a man’s house to be broken down and his belongings and property thrown out.
I had not heard of this matter and asked them to take me to the location to meet the affected person and see the lot.
The lot in dispute is lot 322 Tabatinga and the person involved is Richard Damdar popularly known in Lethem as coolie.
Mr. Damdar and his neighbours explained to me that he was living on a that was previously under the control of a man who had squatted on a number of lots in the neighbourhood.
After a few years, he said the owner made an agreement with him to do some work on a few vehicles in exchange for the lot. After this he proceeded to apply for the lot and began the process of ownership in his name.
A prominent member of the community sometime during our visit had a meeting with management and received paperwork showing he was occupying the lot for a period longer than Mr. Damdar. With this paper in hand, this person proceeded to Mr. Damdar’s house with the police and other private individuals and began dismantling his body work shop, damaged his fence, cut down trees and destroyed a number of items related to his work.
All this was taking place as Prime Minister Nagamootoo was addressing the citizens of Lethem.
Mr. Damdar said he went to the outreach and tried talking the Prime Minister, members of CHPA management and all the ministers present. He said each time he was shouted down and interrupted by a prominent member of the community who is related to the person claiming ownership of the land.
Neighbours and others say that the person claiming ownership until recently has not lived in Guyana.
Mr. Damdar was issued a lot in Culver City but at a minimum I think he was denied due process.
This incident could lead to a huge public relations disaster for CHPA and the government delegation as I was informed that Mr. Damdar is in Georgetown to meet members of the media about his story.

Recommendation:
This matter be immediately investigated.

Complaints by members of the public

There are a number of complaints by members of the public. While it is difficult to determine the merits of these complaints on the surface, many point to corruption, incompetence and lawlessness by the former Regional Housing Officer.

Recommendation:
a mechanism be put in place to received written submissions from the public in relations to their complaints and they be sorted and dealt as ongoing chatter

humble regards,

Mark Jacobs
Chair, Land Allocation Committee

cc:
Board Chairman, Chairman Hamilton Green
Minister Valerie Patterson

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