Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Why are remigrants being asked to pay $7M for 8,000 sq ft of land when the President is paying $5M per acre?

After reading about the land being offered to remigrants (only a fool would pay US$35,000 for a house lot in Guyana that’s less than ¼ of an acre), I went to the Central Housing & Planning Authority’s website to have a look at the application form. As ‘Peeping Tom’ in KN indicated, I had to create a username and password, and provide my email address before I was allowed to access this information. The form itself is quite straightforward and user-friendly. Remigrants are given a choice to select one of four house lots (or as they’re referred to in the USA: homesites): 6,000 sq ft costing $4M; 6500 sq ft ($4.5M); 7000 sq ft ($5.5M); and the largest lot, 8,000 sq ft, goes for $7 million.

The small homesite measuring 6,000 sq ft is so small that if you cough, your neighbour catches a cold, so there would not be many takers for this size. A standard homesite in Florida is 10,000 sq ft, almost a quarter of an acre, and with real estate prices now way down, it is more economically feasible and sensible for a Guyanese thinking of going back home, to buy one of these homesites in Florida for about US$10,000 and build their home there instead. People are leaving Guyana and every country in the world to come to the United States by any means they can to secure a better quality of life for themselves and their families. And although the economy is not as good as it used to be, this is still the greatest country God has ever created – barring none!

Most Guyanese living abroad are patriotic. We’re sometimes critical of the government, not out of malice, but out of a burning desire to see real progress so that one day we may return to the place we all love. I have personally remitted millions every year to help family members and the underprivileged, and I’m aware that others do the same. In fact, we contribute significantly to the Guyana economy with every dollar and barrel we send home, and with every visit we make for Christmas, Mashramani, cricket, weddings and funerals. I, like most Guyanese living abroad, am very concerned about the high level of corruption and the crime rate, and the inability of law enforcement to bring this under control. I recognize and appreciate the efforts being made by government to improve infrastructure, education and healthcare, but not enough is being done. In fact, Guyana in this stage of socioeconomic development is not an appealing option at this time for a Guyanese living abroad.

The Jagdeo administration must be commended, however, for the tremendous housing programme they have embarked upon to provide affordable land to its citizens, ranging from $59,400 in special cases to a maximum of $1.2 million (US$6,000) for those in the middle income bracket; and for making it easier for them to obtain low interest building loans from financial institutions. But when one considers that President Jagdeo and senior officials have all bought land at the exclusive ocean-view ‘Pradoville 2’ for a mere $5M per acre, this represents the same amount that a middle-income family in Guyana would have to pay for land if they were allowed to buy an acre from the government in a much less affluent neighbourhood. But the unconscionable part is this: Mr Jagdeo and all the President’s men who bought up government land at ‘Pradoville 2’ should have paid over $28 million per acre for this waterfront location instead of $5M, if the land there was valued at $7M for 8,000 sq ft, the same amount they’re expecting remigrants to pay.

In a recent statement to the press referring to the land sale at ‘Pradoville 2,’ Minister of Housing and Water Irfaan Ali said, “The land itself was subject to approved valuation and sold at market value.” If this is true, would Minister Ali inform the overseas Guyanese community why they are asked to pay $7M for a piece of land that measures only 8,000 sq ft in Providence or some other area, when prime waterfront property overlooking the majestic Atlantic Ocean at ‘Pradoville 2’ was sold at ‘market value’ for a mere $1.25M per 10,890 sq ft. (1/4 acre)? And if the land being sold to remigrants is valued at six times that of ‘Pradoville 2,’ why did the President and other ministers not build their homes there instead, and reserve ‘Pradoville 2 for remigrants? There can only be four possible answers:

1. Without thinking, somebody at the Housing Ministry may have decided that all overseas-based Guyanese are wealthy and dumb, and would pack up everything and rush back to live in Guyana if the administration rolls out the red carpet, regardless of the price of land.

2. This is a deliberate scheme by the government to rip off hard-working Guyanese living abroad to get much-needed foreign currency into the country.

3. This is a cleverly thought-out sinister plan to give us the false impression that the administration is working diligently to provide incentives to encourage Guyanese living abroad to return home, when in fact they really don’t want us to do so. The reason being the significant economic role we play in subsidizing the Guyana economy. So Minister Ali announces the creation of a special housing community for remigrants, offering us land way above the market value, knowing that we’re too informed to fall for this.

4. This I believe to be the most realistic of the four: Minister Irfaan Ali is overwhelmed with demands from locals, and is incapable of handling the distribution of land to remigrants. So he delegates the responsibility to some contractor who buys the land cheaply from the government, and hopes to make a killing from us. It ain’t gonna happen.

Guyana is mostly underpopulated for its size of 83,000 sq miles, and the PPP/C administration is right to encourage Guyanese living abroad to return home, but this is not the way to do it. As it is, Guyanese returning home at this time is very risky and dangerous as they’re likely to be targeted by bandits. So Minister Ali must sweeten the pot by offering remigrants the opportunity to buy land in Guyana at the same rate his colleagues are getting it for: $5M per acre or $1.25M for a quarter of an acre. So we can use the rest of the money to open a small business and provide employment.

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