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The genesis of the Eden Gardens matter; what the media might usefully pursue

In November 2016, the State filed a lawsuit against certain former public officials for alleged fraud in the HDC’s 2012 purchase of 50.5 acres at Eden Gardens in Freeport.

The former officials named in that lawsuit were Jearlean John (former HDC managing director), Henckle Lall (former HDC chairman), Greg Davis (former deputy HDC chairman), Peter Forde, Project Specialist Ltd, former commissioner of valuations Ronald Heeralal, Point Lisas Park Ltd, Anthony Sampath, Patrick Soon Ting and Everil Ross.

Photo: Former HDC managing director Jerlean John.

On 17 April 2018, the High Court dismissed the State’s lawsuit when it refused to grant the State further extensions of time to file its full case. That appears to have been claimed by the defendants as a form of exoneration.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Nothing.

The case was re-filed (CV2018-01504) against the same defendants on Friday 27 April 2018 and the High Court will have to rule on what is in my view a most grievous case of Grand Corruption. This is a case of historic importance since we are seeing the State adopt an effective method to put accused persons before the Court by taking the civil lawsuit route to attack Grand Corruption.

That case was summarised as follows:

…The cause of the payment of the excessive sum was the failure to take reasonable and sensible steps to conduct due diligence on the necessity of the transaction and the value of the land being acquired and/or the payment of a bribe by the seller to an employee of the Valuation Division of the Ministry of Finance involved in preparing a valuation of the land to justify the acquisition…

I have covered the Eden Gardens case in detail elsewhere but a re-cap is useful.

  • 2010: On February 3, 2010, Eden Gardens is sold to Point Lisas Park Ltd for TT$5m.
  • 2010 to 2012: The lots at Eden Gardens are offered at TT$400,000 by Golden Key Real Estate Ltd. There are 264 lots at that stage, which equates to gross sales of TT$105m.
  • November 2011: HDC orders a valuation of Eden Gardens from Linden Scott, which produces an opinion of TT$52m.
  • April 2012: Then Commissioner of Valuations Ronald Heeralal issues an opinion, valuing Eden Gardens at $180m.
  • November 2012: HDC purchases Eden Gardens from Point Lisas Park Ltd for TT$175m, which equates to TT$663,000 per lot for a sale of the entire property.
Photo: CPML Contractors Ltd employees work at Eden Gardens in Freeport.
(Copyright CPML Contractors)

Of course, the dismissal of the original case was met with claims of victory from the defendants in the expected political exchanges, so one has to deal soberly with these claims of vindication.

One of the references used by the defendants is the Integrity Commission complaint on Eden Gardens, which was dismissed some years ago. Those claims hold no water since that complaint was that there had been payment of a secret commission. No such payment claim forms part of the present case.

In November 2011, Linden Scott & Associates reported that Eden Gardens was worth $52M. Linden Scott is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and qualified as a Chartered Surveyor on 18 January 1983. The Linden Scott & Associates company is a rival of our own firm.

Some four months later, on 6 March 2012, Ronald Heeralal, then Commissioner of Valuations, reported that Mr Scott’s report on Eden Gardens was “…grossly understated considering the current state of the development and on the assumption that all statutory approvals have been had for intensive residential development…

Mr Heeralal went on to provide a valuation report for Eden Gardens in the sum of TT$180M as at 26 April 2012. It is to be noted that Mr Heeralal, who has since retired from the Public Service, qualified as a Chartered Surveyor on 30 July 2013, more than 30 years after Mr Scott.

Photo: Former Housing Minister Roodal Moonilal (centre) and HDC managing director Jerlean John (far right).
(Copyright News.gov.tt)

Here, then, is a shortlist of ten explicit questions designed to assist interested media persons in sifting sense from nonsense in this complex fraud:

  1. Why was it acceptable to buy any land at all in Central Trinidad, given the abundance of nearby disused Caroni lands?
  2. Why was the option of acquiring Eden Gardens by compulsory purchase ignored? After all, it could not have cost more than TT $35m to lawfully acquire Eden Gardens.
  3. Given the choice made by the HDC, what were the advantages of Private Treaty?
  4. Why was the November 2011 private valuation commissioned? At what price did Point Lisas Park Ltd first offer this property to the HDC?
  5. What steps did HDC take in respect of the understated consideration in the 2010 deed for the sale of Eden Gardens?
  6. How many of the 264 lots were sold at the 2011 asking price of TT$400,000? That is important since it establishes a benchmark for the proper value of these lots in the open market.
  7. When did Eden Gardens receive all the required approvals?
  8. When was the infrastructure completed at Eden Gardens? At what cost? To which party’s account were those infrastructure costs applied? Did Point Lisas Park Ltd pay all those costs? How much did HDC pay for the Eden Gardens infrastructure?
  9. Who owns Point Lisas Park Limited? My search of the Registrar General’s records show that no shares were ever issued, so just who is the ultimate beneficial owner of that company?
  10. The private valuation was less than one-third of the valuation from the State’s adviser, which I have never heard of. Why did this massive discrepancy raise no red-flags?
Photo: Former HDC chairman Henckle Lall.

In the interest of complete transparency, I wish to add three bits of information relating to Raymond & Pierre Limited:

  • Raymond & Pierre Limited, under my leadership, provided certain professional advice on this property in 2007. No aspect of that advice has formed part of this article.
  • Linden Scott is a former colleague of mine, having trained at Raymond & Pierre Limited.  He is now a rival professional.
  • Raymond & Pierre Limited has in the past provided professional advice to the HDC.

Editor’s Note: This discussion is also hosted at www.afraraymond.net

About Afra Raymond

Afra Raymond is a Chartered Surveyor and Managing Director of Raymond & Pierre Ltd. He is the ex-president of Institute of Surveyors and immediate past president of the Joint Consultative Council for the Construction Industry (JCC), having served between December 2010 and November 2015.

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