Former Government Minister Robeson Benn Wednesday said the controversial Pradoville2 Housing Project was established to ensure the security of former President Bharrat Jagdeo and other government ministers at a time when there was a hike in criminal activities.
Benn was at the time responding to questions posed by the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) which is probing the sale and transfer of lands in the Sparendaam area known as Pradoville Two on the East Coast of Demerara.
All of the former Government Ministers who served in 2010 are being questioned before SOCU to answer questions in relation to the probe.
Speaking with the media after being questioned on Wednesday morning, Benn disclosed that he told investigators that the transfer of lands at the time was necessary since there was the recent murder of the Agriculture Minister Satyadeow Sawh and the security of the senior members of the Government were of utmost importance.
“Whatever was done had to be done,” he declared.
Sawh was assassinated in April 2006 along with his two siblings and a security guard at Earl’s Court, La Bonne Intention (LBI), East Coast Demerara.
The former Government official said he was “shocked and speechless” by the allegations put to him that he “conspired” with the Cabinet to have lands transferred to the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA).
“I don’t know what they’re talking about.
“We were shown (Cabinet) documents which were unsigned, documents which you’re not sure of their authentication, documents which were not routed to me as a Minister and therefore I can’t authenticate or talk about it,” he told the media.
Benn was represented by Attorney Priya Manickchand.
Manickchand, who served as Minister of Human Services and Social Security, was herself questioned on Tuesday in relation to the matter.
She deemed the investigation “a waste of time” noting that the questions asked were no different from what was answered before.
“This is all part of the plot of destabilize and interfere with the opposition…an effort to intimidate the political opposition.
“And we want to be very clear, it’s now a joke, it has always been a joke and I think the nation understands that it’s a joke.
“It is an attempt to distract from their poor governance,” she told reporters on Wednesday morning.
According to Manickchand questions asked related to whether there was a valuation for the land, whether Cabinet decided on who should get the land and reasons for the property being vested in the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA).
She believes that SOCU is being used to push a political agenda to go after Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.
Jagdeo, then Cabinet Secretary Dr. Roger Luncheon and Ministers Priya Manickchand, Dr. Jennifer Westford, Robert Persaud and Clement Rohee, along with other persons own lots at the contentious area.
However, Manzoor Nadir who served as Labour Minister believes that the Government should leave what was done under the former administration behind.
“Dr. Jagan said it right in 1992, let’s put the past behind us and open a new slate,” he said, explaining that it is going to be difficult for future Governments to desist from “going through this same exercise” and it will put Guyana “in a downward spiral of recrimination after recrimination, regime after regime.”
Nadir who said he did not answer any questions since he exercised his right to remain silent, dubbed the process as “political harassment” as the questions being asked are based on speculations.
SOCU began investigation into the allocation of lands at ‘Pradoville Two’ to Cabinet members of the People’s Progressive Party/ Civic Administration and their close associates in early 2017. Head of SOCU, Sydney James was quoted in the press last month as saying the investigation has been completed and sent for legal advice.
However, all of the former Government officials who served in 2010 were questioned on Tuesday and Wednesday in relation to the matter.
The investigation into the lands came after a special investigation of the Sparendaam Housing Project referred to as `Pradoville 2’ was completed. The investigation was part of a larger probe of the financial operations of the CH&PA was conducted by a private accounting firm.