Govt will keep vendor relocation deadline - Luncheon
Toolsie Persaud proposes outright purchase, equitable exchange

Stabroek News
August 14, 2001

The Guyana government intends to keep to the September 1, deadline for relocating the pavement vendors on Water Street to the empty lot owned by Toolsie Persaud Ltd (TPL). The vendors have until August 31, to comply with an order of the court to cease their activities on Water Street.

Head of the Presidential Secretariat, Dr Roger Luncheon, reiterated the government's commitment to doing this at yesterday's post-Cabinet press briefing at the Office of the President. He also stressed that the speed with which the government was moving to amend the Land Acquisition for Public Purposes Act was an indication of its eagerness to resolve the issue quickly.

The Rise Organise and Rebuild (ROAR) party yesterday added its voice to the condemnation of the government's action calling it a return to the nationalization principles of the 1968-1985, which were aided and abetted by the PPP. It called on "all Guyana to reject this return to nationalization."

Dr Luncheon said: "I think the government has made it abundantly clear that the Water street vendors... numbering in perhaps hundreds will be relocated in Water street". The empty lot owned by TPL is located at 49-52 Water Street and was reportedly acquired from the government in 1989 during the Desmond Hoyte administration at a price said to have been around $3 million.

Dr Luncheon also said that the government and the vendors were annoyed by the efforts of TPL and "various misguided and uninformed mouthpieces, who have sought to delay and even obstruct this justifiable project."

When government announced the proposal to relocate the vendors there it said that the land would be leased from TPL and turned over to the Mayor and City Council to relocate the vendors. Initially, TPL wanted to lease the lot for a five-year period. However, in a press release it issued yesterday, it suggested that the government acquire its Water street property either by outright purchase or for an equitable exchange of a property under the government's control, which it has already identified to the government. The identified location is at 13 Water Street and does not include the waterfront facilities.

The release said that the two sides had been unable to reach agreement on the terms of the lease, explaining that TPL, "while demonstrating great reasonableness, flexibility and compromise has always insisted that any compensation or arrangement for use of its properly should be guided and informed by current market considerations. This perfectly logical and understandable business approach was not fully embraced or accepted by the government side which abruptly made an arbitrary 'take it or leave it' offer of a lease payment totally unrelated to the economic use or value of the property."

Stabroek News has learnt that the government's offer was in the region of $5 million a year, while TPL's proposal was in the region of $1 million a month."

Responding to questions about the statement by TPL, Dr Luncheon said that the government was not moving to acquire the property for public purposes by an illegal or improper method.

He explained that the "thousands of Guyanese men and women and children are concerned about the delay in giving them access to the Water street lot and not about the property which TPL wants in exchange."

Dr Luncheon cautioned that the delay in giving the vendors access to the TPL lot "is going to create problems for all of us." He explained that if the people who were suffering were to be asked if the concerns of TPL should delay the acquisition of the site, they would say that they should not. Dr Luncheon reiterated that it would not be in the interest of the government for the project to be delayed.

Responding to TPL's concern that the price paid should be guided by current market considerations, Dr Luncheon said that the constitution provided for prompt and adequate compensation. He said that the factors that would figure in the government's considerations would be the price that was paid for the site, what was done with it since then and what could be better done with it. "Those are some of the inputs into its value that we have some difficulties in having others embrace."

The TPL's statement said that it had its Water Street property valued by "a qualified, independent Chartered Quantity Surveyor and a Chartered Land Appraiser for determining a market-driven purchase price.

"It should be emphasised that TPL is not seeking to make a profit, but simply to recoup its investment in the site. TPL's preferred option remains the development of the site as originally intended and for which the company has already expended substantial sums on infrastructural and other preparatory work."

It said that the "property which it is now being asked to relinquish was bought in 1989 at prevailing market price and was the centre piece of the company's future plans."

The statement repeated an earlier release, which said that the government's decision to make the site available for use by the vendors was made without reference to the company and came as a complete shock. "Nevertheless, despite being presented with a virtual fait accompli, TPL's representatives approached the subsequent talks in a spirit of reasonableness and compromise which was not always reciprocated."

It reiterated that the issue could be resolved around the bargaining table to the satisfaction of all stakeholders as none of its proposals could be objectively construed as being unhelpful to a timely and reasonable determination of this issue.

Meanwhile in condemning the return to "nationalization without adequate compensation" the ROAR press release said " ... even China and Cuba would not try this today.

"In the very restricted circumstances in any international investment agreement where nationalization is allowed, provision would be made for adequate compensation reflecting market value and for disputes to be settled not by local courts but by international jurisdiction and arbitration.

The statement also quoted ROAR's leader Ravi Dev, as saying "I hope that the government remembers the threat of invoking OPIC action if they had acted unilaterally in the case of GT&T. Is the government going to discriminate against local investors such as TPL?"

The ROAR statement reiterated that "property rights form the foundation of democracy and the free enterprise system by providing an alternative locus of power to challenge the tyrannical potential of all governments. To pass ex-post facto legislation to set up the nationalization sends the worse signal to the local and international investment community."