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– Former AG Basil Williams says
WITH the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government left with little or no choice but to use Infectious Disease Hospital given the increasing number of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) cases in Guyana, Senior Counsel, Basil Williams – the country’s former Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs – is making a case for the Irfaan Ali Administration to finalise the acquisition of the building housing the health facility.
“In light of the foregoing, and the ongoing covid-19 pandemic reflecting increased deaths and a surge in positive cases it is incumbent that the PPP/C Government secures the acquisition of the Ocean View Hotel Limited in furtherance of combatting the covid-19 pandemic,” Williams said in a statement issued on Saturday.
The building, housing the Infectious Disease Hospital, was formerly the Ocean View Hotel.
“The APNU + AFC Government had submitted the requisite authority under the hand of the relevant minister, authorising a sworn land surveyor of the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission to deposit the documents contemplated under section 9 (1) of the Acquisition of Lands for Public Purposes Act, Chapter 62:05, with the exception of the Certificate of Compensation to the effect that the National Assembly has voted the sum necessary for compensation for the acquisition of the Ocean View Hotel,” Williams explained in the statement.
However, with the dissolution of Parliament to allow for the conduct of the General and Regional Elections, the Certificate of Compensation could not have been deposited, as a result, the then Minister of Finance Winston Jordan wrote a letter indicating that upon the convening of the National Assembly the appraised sum of the Chief Valuation Officer will be voted on.
“The Chief Valuation Officer had appraised the said hotel in the sum of $1,144,100,000.00 (one billion one hundred and forty -four million, one hundred thousand dollars) cost rounded approach and for sale value would be the sum of $850,075,000.00 (eight hundred fifty million seventy five thousand dollars),” the former Attorney General noted.
The compulsory acquisition has its genesis in the search by the Ministry of Public Health, under the stewardship of Volda Lawrence, for quarantine facilities to house persons tested for Covid-19. Notably, consultations were held between the Public Health Ministry and the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), and it was determined that the capacity of the current medical facilities was wholly inadequate to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
A search for a suitable building ended with Ocean View Hotel Limited being identified as most suitable given the circumstances. “A presentation was made to Cabinet based on advice proffered by Mr. Andrew M. F. Pollard,SC of Hughes, Fields and Stoby Law Firm which caused Cabinet to consider whether to lease or own the property in question. It was determined by Cabinet that the best option would be to own the property through compulsory acquisition,” Williams disclosed.
He added: “Cabinet had found during its deliberations that the Ocean View Hotel Limited is presently indebted to the Guyana National Co-operative Bank (GNCB) in sums in excess of $1,069,425,886 (the debt). The debt was incurred pursuant to several loan transactions, firstly with the Guyana Co-operative Agricultural and Industrial Development Bank (GAIBANK), and then with its successor in title GNCB.”
The debt was secured by several Debentures, namely: GAIBANK as a floating charge on the assets of the company to secure $143,563,500; GAIBANK as a (fixed and) floating charge on the assets of the company to secure $55,436,500; and GNCB as a fixed and floating charge on the assets of the company to secure $20,000,000. Notably, the Ocean View Hotel had defaulted the payments due. Williams further pointed out that on May 29, 2009, GNCB appointed a Receiver of the Ocean View Hotel’s undertaking Courtney Perry, with a view to taking over the management of the Hotel and a sale of it to recover the debt. Perry remains the Receiver up to the present time and is still active in this Receivership.
“Several civil proceedings were instituted in the High Court against GNCB and the Receiver by Winston Rambaran, the sole shareholder and a Director of the Ocean View Hotel Limited. On the 10th day of March, 2016, the Honourable Mr. Justice Rishi Persaud gave judgment in the High Court in Winston Rambaran & Ocean View Hotel Limited v. GNCB & Courtney Perry (Receiver); Civil Action No. 899-CD of 2009 (Demerara) in favour of the Receiver,” Williams pointed out.
The Court had ruled that the appointment of the Receiver was lawful, proper and effective.
“It was further ordered by the Court that the Receiver recover the sum of $223,800,000 against the Ocean View Hotel, together with interest thereon at 17.5% (seventeen decimal five percentum) per annum from the said 10th day of March, 2016, until fully paid. Winston Rambaran has appealed to the Court of Appeal, but the appeal has not yet been heard. There was no stay of execution nor any cross-appeal by GNCB,” Williams further noted.
The former Attorney General said it is important to complete the compulsory acquisition of the building given the rise in COVID-19 cases. To date, Guyana has recorded more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases among them 35 deaths with August dubbed the mostly deadly month.