Christopher Jones gifted state lands twice; Trevor Benn waived land fees
…Barber shop scandal
The story involving an application for financing from the government-run Sustainable Livelihood and Entrepreneurial Development (SLED) programme for the establishment of a barbershop by former Director of Sports, Christopher Jones, has taken another twist.
The programme was run by the Ministry of Social Protection under the Coalition government.
The Coalition, now in Opposition, is seeing its Chief Whip under police investigations. The matter has spilled over now to also involve application for lands.
It was revealed that the previous administration gifted state lands to Jones on two occasions for the construction of his barber shop.
Not only was this done, Kaieteur News also understands that Trevor Benn, Commissioner/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC) allegedly passed instructions that his land fees be waived.
Benn has been sent on 42 days of leave. It was reported last week that he bought high-end 2015 SUV from the Commission for a mere$2.5M, despite it being worth over $20M.
Kaieteur News has seen copies of documents detailing the agreement between Jones and the GLSC.
Back in 2017, Jones reportedly applied to the Commission on behalf of “Precision Cuts Barber shop” to lease for a period of 50 years, a portion of state lands at Festival City, Georgetown.
Along with his application, Jones submitted his Business Registration Certificate and a detailed business proposal outlining the intended business.
An inspection of the land was later conducted in January 2018 showing a small shed Jones claimed to be his. In November the same year, he was granted approval and issued the 50-year lease for the 0.124 acres of land.
Sometime after, in the first quarter of 2020, the Manager of the Commission’s Secretariat stated that an alternative portion of land had to be identified for Jones because the land previously was encumbered with the erection of a health centre by the Mayor and Town Council of Georgetown.
According to the documents, the Commission was not aware of that development as the inspection report only reflected the shed Jones identified as his.
Further, it was said that another applicant had applied for the new portion of land identified for Jones but that agreement was later scrapped and a brand new application for the former Sport Director was drawn up.
Shockingly, when Commissioner Trevor Benn was questioned about the relevant fees to be paid, he instructed his staff to “process the application without the fees.”
This is according to documents seen by this newspaper.
Jones’ new lease was later presented to him on June 15, 2020.
The old lease was not cancelled or returned to the Commission.
It should be noted that this application was processed when the country was embroiled in a widely publicized electoral impasse with a government who was said to be in “caretaker mode”.
The scandal emerged after a search was conducted at Jones’ Tucville home for a quantity of barber shop equipment reportedly belonging to the state.
That search was conducted in relation to an audit carried out at the former Ministry of Social Protection, which showed that they had approved the pay out of almost $5 million under the Region Four administration for the procurement of equipment for a barber shop under the SLED programme.
A review of a grant received by Jones revealed that the full amount was spent by December 31, 2019; however over $1M in items were in fact not delivered and the project was not executed.
The balance of the items, were stored at Jones’ home.
Jones later took to social media and explained that he applied for a “loan” last year through the SLED programme via the then Social Protection Minister led by Amna Ally.
It should be noted that the SLED programme does not provide loans, but in fact grants which do not have to be repaid. Jones explained that he applied for funding to buy 16 barber chairs, an air-conditioning unit, and other equipment for a barber shop in Festival City and same was granted by the subject minister at the time.
He was adamant that the items that were removed from his home were his.
Investigators are probing whether he made misrepresentations in his application.