Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj is sending the Attorney General a file on the PNM Cabinet’s handling of the Guanapo land for the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ Church. He said Cabinet broke the law in the procedure by which the land was transferred to “prophetess” Juliana Pena’s church.
Maharaj, who spoke about the issue in Tuesday night’s Senate budget debate, told the T&T Guardian on Wednesday he was passing the file to the AG to probe and was examining the statute of limitations on it. In the Senate on Tuesday, he said the PNM administration did not give farmers leases for agricultural land but used land for purposes such as the controversial church, a 2010 general election platform issue centring on former PNM leader Patrick Manning, who came under fire for his links with his so-called “spiritual adviser” Pena.
Maharaj said an application for the land was made by letter of July 13, 2005, to the permanent secretary in the Agriculture Ministry. He said former landowners Terry and Cindy Le Blanc relinquished rights to the land. But then, he added, the Manning cabinet got involved.
“A Cabinet decision, number 2542, agreed the standard agricultural lease of Lot 104 of Heights of Guanapo be terminated and thereafter the Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ Church be granted an institutional lease, subject to Town and Country Planning approval,” Maharaj said.
He said the proposal said a comprehensive spiritual centre and orchard would be located on the land. He said the matter was taken to Cabinet without any input from the Commissioner of State Lands, violating Section Six of the State Land Act. Maharaj also said the search for the land was done by Udecott.
He added: “You see the nexus between (former Udecott head Calder) Hart, Pena and Patrick... farmers could not get leases but this reach Cabinet and a lease is given to terminate the agricultural lease to give the prophetess.”
Maharaj also told the Senate a relative of a member of the PNM’s leadership was part of a law firm which did work for the Agricultural Development Bank. He said ADB work totalled $50 million between 2002 and 2010. Contacted on Maharaj’s claim that Cabinet broke the law on the Guanapo land issue, PNM agriculture minister in 2005, Jarette Narine, said: “We broke no law. All procedures were adhered to.
“The land was red soil, not arable land. The owner of the land wanted to give it to the church. We didn’t ask him to. “A letter on the issue was sent to the permanent secretary who forwarded it to me with the recommendation that I examine it.”
Narine said he took the matter to Cabinet then to the Commissioner of State Lands, who sent it to then AG John Jeremie and from there to the Town and Country Planning Division and back to the commissioner.