Minister for Natural Resources Vincent Wheatley was grilled about the apparent haste with which the government approached a $10 million land investment deal with an unnamed developer last year.
When he appeared before the Commission of Inquiry (COI) yesterday, October 14, Minister Wheatley said it was largely because of the urgency of the pandemic.
When asked for an explanation about what was the rush for the matter being brought to Cabinet, Minister Wheatley said: “You see the date on it? Middle of the pandemic. We are trying to get the country shut down, we’re trying to get economic activity in the country. If you look at the financial implications of it, it lays it out there.”
He continued: “Somebody’s trying to put an injection of $10 million in our economy during a very bad time — the worst pandemic in 100 years. We are scrambling trying to figure out how we’re going to get this economy moving. That is the hurry, that was the hurry, to get economic activity in the country.”
Cabinet dealt with issue prematurely
COI attorney, Bilal Rawat, said the Attorney General’s (AG) Chambers had suggested that the issue was prematurely brought to Cabinet. Among the reasons for the AG’s conclusion was that the rent was expected to be calculated by reference to a valuation of the land. However, this valuation was still absent at the time the deal was brought to Cabinet for consideration.
The COI attorney also suggested that the process was done relatively quickly given that it took place over a short space of time in December 2020. He further pointed out that other applications took a much longer time to be processed and approved.
“Can you shed any light on why you go from 4 December to the 23rd, appearing to give the green light to a $10-$15 million development in Road Town?” Rawat asked.
Minister Wheatley said all the businesses were closed at the time and the government jumped at the opportunity when it was presented to inject some economic activity into the territory, adding that construction was a way of doing this.
He also explained that a valuation report and survey for the development could have come once the lease was being prepared, but the Cabinet’s recommendation was simply an approval to go ahead to prepare the survey and lease.
No obligation to build placed on developer
Rawat informed Minister Wheatley that the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry had told the COI that a survey and valuation report ought to have been made available prior to any recommendation being taken to Cabinet for consideration.
But Minister Wheatley said he was not sure that this was an instance where the regular process needed to be followed.
In the end, Minister Wheatley told the COI that he could not say whether the lease was ever completed, adding that a lease was never granted, as per Cabinet’s decision.
“If memory serves me right, I don’t think that lease is done yet,” he stated.
He also said that he could not say whether a business plan had gone to the Premier’s Office, noting that this only happens in instances where there is a development agreement.
He said development agreements are only put in place in scenarios where investors need something from government, but in this instance, this was not the case.
“They were simply investing in the country so I don’t see a need for one, a development agreement,” Minister Wheatley said.
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