The state-owned National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) yesterday refuted claims by its former Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a Board meeting purportedly held to authorize an amendment to its land leases.
That amended clause resulted in the large scale transfer of prime state lands situated at Peter’s Hall, now under investigation by the current administration.
Colvin Heath-London, who was released on bail yesterday, had sought to clear his name of fraud allegations by pinning the blame on his predecessor, the late Horace James.
His attorney, Nigel Hughes had supplied documents – a ‘Board Note’ and ‘Stamp of Approval’ – allegedly outlining the decision taken at a NICIL Board meeting back on January 15, 2018.
But, according to the recently appointed NICIL Board, that Board meeting never occurred. NICIL claimed too that the documents released by London’s attorney, appear to be fabricated as they lacked the normal format used by the company.
“This unsigned document has been carefully examined by NICIL, and it has been concluded that is it neither a document emanating from NICIL nor is it part of the minutes of any Board Meeting of NICIL,” NICIL explained.
The company revealed that Board Meetings are “recorded and minuted” by the Company Secretary in a particular style and format and all such minutes and records are kept in the Company Secretary’s possession.
It said too that the documents released by Hughes were “absolutely inconsistent with and does not meet the standardized format of NICIL Board Meeting minutes or any NICIL document.”
“The said document is titled a ‘Board Note’ from a meeting of the board of NICIL. There is no document in NICIL’s records which is styled a ‘Board Note’,” NICIL explained, adding that the content of that document and the decisions contained therein are not recorded in “any minutes of any meeting of the Board of NICIL on that date or at all.”
Hughes subsequently issued another statement, outright rejecting NICIL’s claims.
Attached with that statement were two other documents – invoices for land lease payments made by Chinese national Jianfen Yu on July 7, 2020 for the 30 acres of prime land at Peter’s Hall that were sub-leased to him as a result of the amended land lease clause.
Yu received the leased lands from Life 1 Pharms Inc. and A-Z Pharmaceuticals Medical Supplies and Equipment Inc. in identical deals said to have been drawn up and executed by People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR) member, James Bond.
Hughes questioned that if there were no recorded minutes of that Board meeting where the decision was taken to amend the lease, “why was NICIL issuing invoices to sub lessees for rent for documents and decisions it contends it was unaware of.”
NICIL, however, clarified that the receipts attached to London’s response were issued by NICIL’s accounts clerk “upon being directly instructed to so do by Mr. London while he was Chief Executive Officer (Ag) of NICIL in July 2020.”
The accounts clerk, NICIL said, has since provided a statement mirroring same to the police.
Addressing the alleged forged ‘Board Note’ being pinned on Horace James, the company outlined that he was not a director in 2018 and neither was Heath-London.
“It should also be noted that the members of the Board of Directors of NICIL in January 2018 at the time the alleged ‘Board Note’ was created were Dr. Maurice Odle, Mr. Oswald Barnes, Mr. Berkley Wickham, Ms. Sonya Roopnauth and Mr. Joseph Harmon,” the company explained.
“It must be emphasized that in January 2018, neither Mr. Horace James (deceased) nor Mr. Colvin Heath-London were Directors of NICIL,” NICIL continued.
The purported ‘Board Note,’ lists both men along with Joseph Harmon as present at the meeting when the decision was made. Hughes had claimed that it was James and not his client who functioned as the CEO at the time of the execution of the leases in question.
Heath-London, he said, was at the time the head of the Special Purpose Unit (SPU).
According to the purported ‘Board Note,’ NICIL’s CEO Horace James had informed Heath-London of plans on stream for the Peter’s Hall area to be designated as an industrial park in support of Guyana’s new oil and gas sector.
In the document that James “opined that national’s inability to secure capital to facilitate business alliances such as joint venture arrangements may be stymied. It was therefore put forward by the CEO (Horace James) that lease transactions should be amended to facilitate subletting thus creating a more competitive platform for local companies and nationals to benefit from this new business opportunity.”
Further, it was reportedly decided at that very Board meeting that the NICIL CEO would “treat with commissioning of valuation and survey reports, preparation of leases to qualified applicants to facilitate onward subletting by all approved leases” and further, “Industrial Parks Lease Transactions to be formulated immediately for the Peter’s Hall area and such areas as Berbice and Demerara were also slated as possible industrial park developments sites to be commissioned.”
Both Heath-London and Guyana’s former Finance Minister, Winston Jordan, are accused of playing a hand in not just the giveaway of the prime state lands at Peter’s Hall on the East Bank of Demerara, but also at Ogle on the East Coast of Demerara.
Though these prime lands were worth billions of dollars, NICIL vested large parcels in the hands of a number of investors, receiving a fraction of the payments in some cases and in others, none at all.
Guyana’s State Lands Act clearly stipulates that whenever state lands are leased, the lease agreement must indicate that the lessee “SHALL NOT” part with lands (possession) or “SHALL NOT” assign the interest in the said agreement without the consent of the state.
It states, too, that in the event that there is going to be a transfer to a third party, the state reserves the right to step in and repossess the lands, reverting ownership back to the state. However, that very clause was altered in the lease agreements currently at the center of these investigations. The leases were altered to say that “the lessee may divest the land, may part with possession, may assign it to a third-party interest.”