|File: Church under construction at Guanapo ... project was abandoned after the 2010 election|
The Food Production Minister told local media the Manning cabinet broke the law when it transferred the land to the church headed by Juliana Pena, a former spiritual adviser to Manning.
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Maharaj told the Senate during this week's budget debate that the PNM administration did not give farmers leases for agricultural land but used land for purposes such as the controversial church.
He said the church made an application for the land in a letter to the permanent secretary in the Agriculture Ministry dated July 13, 2005. He said the cabinet became involved after the former landowners Terry and Cindy Le Blanc relinquished rights to the land.
“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 in the Senate.
He said the proposal went to Cabinet without any input from the Commissioner of State Lands, violating Section Six of the State Land Act and that the search for the land was done by UDeCOTT.
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However a former Agriculture Minister in the Manning cabinet denied that the government broke any law. The Guardian newspaper said it spoke with Jarette Narine who said: “We broke no law. All procedures were adhered to".
He added, "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 told the Guardian he took the matter to Cabinet then to the Commissioner of State Lands. From there it went to AG John Jeremie and the Town and Country Planning Division before being sent back to the commissioner.