By Aaron Humes:Deals like the 2020 one with the Nature Conservancy and its partners are hardly rare, said Senator Michael Peyrefitte. And they almost invariably involve tax exemptions as the Government would not charge itself for land it is managing.
The management of the 266 thousand acres would cost US$50 million over a half-century, Peyrefitte noted, while the sale was for US$72 million. And while mentioning that Barrow and Williams law firm represented the conservationists, Sen. Courtenay failed to mention that his (now-former) firm, Courtenay, Coye, and Company, represented the landowners from whom the land was bought. After Cabinet’s approval the deal went ahead, and was not “secret” as Courtenay said, nor could it be brought to the National Assembly as it concerns privately-owned, not Government-owned.
The land was transferred to a trust controlled by the Nature Conservancy as intended, but no stamp duty was waived by Hugo Patt, as only the minister of finance, then-Prime Minister Dean Barrow, has that authority, as provided for by Section 76 of the Stamp Duties Act in this specific circumstance. By the time the S.I. was prepared to be signed off on by Barrow, he was out of office, and the document is on the desk of successor John Briceno, presenting a neat dilemma – sign, give up the taxes and be eaten for lunch by the trade unions after promising to go after outstanding taxes now, or run afoul of the landowners and TNC.
The Nature Conservancy is also interested, Peyrefitte revealed, in buying into the Superbond, reducing effectively by half the amount of money owed – “a huge pickle,” as Peyrefitte neatly put it, if the deal is not consummated. Hugo Patt will tell of his role next.