The sight of the PPP/C leadership traipsing to the headquarters of the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) in relation to the Sparendaam Housing Project (Prado 2) has again raised the expectation, particularly among APNU+AFC supporters, that they are on the verge of some kind of reckoning for the massive corruption we have been made to understand existed under the PPP/C government. Consumed by a hubris rooted in ethnic political superiority, the PPP/C regime obviously did not believe that it would have had to account so soon for some of its more egregious behaviour, but such is the nature of unchecked political authority.
In my view, what occurred with Prado 2 can be easily deciphered and unnecessary hyperbole and exaggerations have complicated the issue. While such behaviour may be satisfying to some, in others it may be contributing to a growing feeling of vindictiveness so a level of clarity is required. From my experience as the minister who initiated the PPP/C’s housing project and Prado 1, and from what I have learnt about the establishment of Prado 2, it appears to me that although much of what took place with Prado 2 was generally in line with what had been happening in the Guyanese housing landscape in both the public and private sectors, there were significant deviations.
On a lighter note, the fact that ‘Prado’ has become a pejorative term, indicates that even good intentions and behaviour can lead to negative public perception. The scheme at Ogle began in about 1996, the same year that Toyota’s second generation medium sized land cruiser, the Prado, hit the showcases. In 1997, I was the Minister of Housing and the first government minister to acquire a Prado: I had the choice of purchasing a full size land cruiser, which at that time cost about US$50,000, or a Prado, which cost US$28,000. I suspect many others in government service also chose the Prado because it was cheaper and more likely to get clearance from the PPP/C government at that time. Had the more expensive and traditional vehicle been chosen, it is doubtful that it would have fired the public imagination but the Prado was more contemporary and stylish thus it became a symbol of PPP/C extravagance that has existed to this day!
One public concern has to do with ministers being allocated land in upper income government schemes of their making and how the lots are allocated. Once the housing project began in about April 1993, quite a few ministers who at the time were living in rentals began to approach the ministry responsible for housing for house lots, and finding some reluctance there, a decision was made to take the matter to President Cheddi Jagan. It was then agreed that ministers could get house lots but only on similar principles as house lots were allocated to other persons in any given category (lower income, middle income and upper income).
So far as Cheddi Jagan’s second regime is concerned, by the time it took office in 1992, things were bad: the PNC government had closed down the ministry of housing and, except for maintaining the Central Housing and Planning Authority, there was no ministry or money for housing in the 1993 budget. The minimum wage was about $3,820 per month and the cost of infrastructure for a single lot was about $500,000. Housing was out of the reach of most people, but in this mix there was a weak but small middle income group, which, if sensibly accommodated, could fund housing for themselves and also help to finance the infrastructure work upon the lands that were being given to low income groups.
The more attractive parts of some schemes, including Enterprise, Eccles, Diamond, were, therefore, designed for this middle income group. Indeed, in its first design, the Diamond scheme even envisaged the creation of a high income area with much larger lots and higher cost. Lamaha and Bel Air Gardens, Meadowbrook, the Banks DIH housing project, etc. demonstrate that Prado 1 and 2 fall squarely within our tradition of income-differentiated housing provisioning in both the public and private sectors.
However, Prado 1 was the first PPP/C dedicated middle income housing project of the PPP/C regime and from my enquiries the criteria that were applied there are still operational. In about 1994, some doctors at the Georgetown Public Hospital applied to the Guyana Sugar Corporation (Guysuco) for housing land and the Ministry of Housing, having received the commitment from the corporation and discussed the matter with the doctors, took a paper to cabinet to allow the CHPA to develop a scheme for the doctors. Since many in the cabinet did not own a house, not surprisingly the cabinet decision was that the scheme should be a middle income one for professionals.
Allottees were to be property-less (although some leeway was allowed to those who wanted to upgrade their housing by disposing of the property they owned), have the capacity to build, not to sell the property for ten years without the permission of the CHPA and were not to be given another, subsidised, allocation singly or as a family ( i.e. if a married individual was allocated a lot the allocation was for the couple).
Apart from the doctors, who were already in a group, the other professionals were identified on a first-come first-served basis. Unlike what occurred in the middle income section of schemes where the private sector operated and allocations were made from whatever lots remained unpurchased, allocation of individual house lots at Prado 1 was done by lottery but even then there were disputes.
In terms of prices, in keeping with a long tradition whereby housing land was sold by the government for well below market value, in 1992/93, a lower income government house lot cost between $8,000 to $10,000, rising to $50,000 in 1996. In the latter year, a ¼ acre plot at Prado 1 was about $200,000 and the participants were expected to complete their own infrastructure. In middle income schemes, where infrastructure was to be provided, the price per lot was approximately $750,000. The general principle for middle income schemes held for both the private and public sectors: the actual price for the virgin land was much below market value (essentially the reason for the no sell criterion) and the allottees were expected to fund their own infrastructure.
To conclude this half of the story, under the PPP/C, ministers of government were entitled to government house lots on the principles explained above. The formation of income-differentiated housing schemes was commonplace and allocation of lots in middle income schemes was on a first-come first-serve basis and largely random. Allottees in government middle income housing projects were expected to finance the development of their infrastructure.