‘My life is threatened’ – Lands and Surveys Commissioner
The Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Trevor Benn says his life is threatened following attacks against the Commission by Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.
The Opposition Leader has said repeatedly that large tracts of land are being farmed out to associates of the Government, but Benn has dismissed these claims, saying the Commission’s process for handing out lands is transparent.
Mr Benn was appointed to head the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission after a Coalition of parties won the May 2015 general elections.
The Commission is responsible for administering all state lands; the Opposition Leader has claimed that there is a mad rush to allocate state lands to persons in the top ranks of the Government.
Mr Benn has not taken the attacks against the Commission lightly.
“When we are called out and targeted, my life is threatened and I am asking the individual to desist,” Mr Benn told the News Room in an interview.
The PPP has claimed that whistle-blowers in the Lands and Surveys Commission who have claimed illegal and corrupt transactions for lands at various locations in the city, the East Coast and Berbice.
Mr Benn says that amounts to a threat against his staff.
“Do not intimidate the staff of the Lands and Surveys Commission; do not bully us.
“We are doing our job. We are operating a transparent organisation,” Mr Benn declared.
The Commission indicated that as the country heads to elections, there is nothing that has changed in the way the Commission operates.
“I know there may have been a pattern in the past of how we operate with lands when it comes to election.
“This Government under my watch is not involved in that. If that individual feels that is the pattern we are going, I want to reassure him, no,” stated Mr Benn.
Mr Benn has acknowledged that there has been corruption at the Commission and that actions by the staff were done out of ignorance.
The Commission, Mr Benn said, has been working to weed out cases where questionable transactions were executed because of a combination of ignorance and corruption.
“I think it is a combination, I am being frank with you.
“Because I can’t understand people working in an institution like this, with all the information available to them, and would countenance things like that.
“And we have tried our best to make sure we reduce as far as possible those issues.”
The Commissioner said there is an established process for the allocation of lands.
“It is a very transparent process.
“You indicate an interest in whatever area. If there are lands available, we take you out to do an inspection.
“If you’re happy with what you’re going to be getting, we invite you to make an application.
“The application is processed, and a lease is issued.
“Five quick steps.”
Mr Benn said that the Commission’s work is hamstrung due to several factors; one is the fact that no mapping has been done over the past 50 years, leaving the Commission to function using a very archaic system.
Part of the problem is that the Lands and Surveys Commission has been using a paper-based system, despite two foreign-funded projects cost 20 million pounds under the former administration to digitalise the systems.
“For whatever reason we have not moved from an 18th-century organisation to the 21st century we are in,” Mr Benn stated.
In the next three to four years, Mr Benn said it is his expectation that Guyanese can walk into the Commission, express interest in a plot of land and know before they leave the building if the land is available and whether the can get it or not.