An aerial view of the Curepe Interchange.

Shareholders of Valsayn Resort (Kay Donna Drive-In Cinema), including Works and Transport Minister Rohan Sinanan, may receive little compensation from the State after it was revealed that they did not have a current lease for the land at the time it was acquired by the Government for the construction of the Curepe Interchange.

Valsayn Resort submitted an $18 million claim for the property but the group could end up on the “losing end.” The $18 million claim will be for curtilage and whatever improvements were made to the property and not for the land itself, which belongs to the State.

This is according to acting deputy permanent secretary in the Ministry of Works and Transport Navin Ramsingh, who spoke with the Sunday Guardian four days after the $221 million Curepe Interchange was officially opened by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.

On Friday, Ramsingh sought to clear the air on rumours that his boss, Sinanan, the Transport Minister, who had a beneficial interest in Valsayn Resort, was paid $100 million for lands belonging to Kay Donna Drive-In Cinema.

In 2013, Ramsingh said,Valsayn Resort received notice that the Government would require, through compulsory acquisition, three-and-a-half acres of the cinema’s five-acre parcel of land to build the interchange. The land was needed for construction of a road reserve.

Around that same time, Valsayn Resort had been negotiating with Caroni 1975 Ltd to have their expired lease for the state land renewed.

“And for that reason, Valysan Resort only put in a $18 million claim for the curtilage and whatever improvements that had been made to the property and not for the land,” he said. The claim was submitted to the Commissioner of Valuations (COV) using a quantity surveyor.

“They made a claim which is being negotiated. So far they have not received any money…not one cent,” Ramsingh insisted.

When the Government took possession of the land in 2019, Ramsingh said they had to demolish a movie theatre screen, its perimeter walls, a large building and the cinema’s playground which was outfitted with recreational equipment.

“That claim is still being negotiated and the commissioner will determine what is a fair price that they should be paid for the improvements made to the property. Or they may come and say they are not paying any…go to court. So the commissioner could reject their claim based on their value.”

Ramsingh said many people are unaware that Valsayn Resort owns a portion of the land and is “still in possession of approximately one acre of leased land to which they have applied for a new lease.”

“So that lease Valsayn Resort applied for, they will now have to pay the State. The State would have to deduct a payment from the $18 million claim for the new lease.”

He said if the State agrees to pay Valsayn Resort $5, $10 or $15 million, they would still have to fork out money for the land they currently occupy.

“That new lease will obviously attract a payment to the State. So at the end of the day, the Government might pay Kay Donna for the biggest parcel of land the least amount of money…or if any at all.”

He said Valsayn Resort which has been very cooperative from the inception of the project might end up on the “losing end.” Ramsingh could not say when the COV will settle the outstanding claim.

If Valsayn Resort had a renewed lease in hand they could have put in a far larger claim, said Ramsingh, who also works as the ministry’s chief technical officer.

While Valsayn Resort was accused of being paid big bucks, Ramsingh said some affected homeowners had submitted to the COV claims ranging from $12 to $16 million.

“This was just for one lot of land with a property on it. Obviously, the Commissioner of Valuations did not agree with some of the claims.”

Following negotiations, the State paid some residents who surrendered their properties between $500,000 to $5.5 million in compensation.

Kay Donna Drive-In Cinema was owned by Prof Max Awong whose business went into receivership some time in the 1990s and the company was put up for sale. A group of businessmen in 1998 came together and formed Valsayn Resort which bought the country’s only drive-in cinema.

The cinema was eventually upgraded and reopened in early 2000. In 2010, the cinema closed its doors but operated as a warehouse facility.

On Saturday, Sinanan said rumours about Valsayn Resort being paid $100 million for the land was fake news and “mischief” being perpetrated by the Opposition.

“Some homeowners wanted the same amount that Valsayn Resort got only to realise that it was not paid.”

Sinanan said nobody would be interested in the Government saving $274 million with the Curepe Interchange project. “But they would continuously talk about the fake $100 million payout.”

Under the then People’s Partnership government the interchange including land acquisition was estimated to cost $550 million but the People’s National Movement administration brought down the figure to $297 million which includes land acquisition payouts.

Cabinet approved $86 million to pay home and business owners

On Friday, Ramsingh gave a breakdown of the properties the State had to acquire and the payments made to those who were affected by the development of the interchange.

He said the State acquired 37 parcels of land, 11 of which had buildings while 14 had only land. Included in the land acquisition were two parcels belonging to the State, while five were owned by National Petroleum.

The number of people dislocated, Ramsingh said, were 11.

Out of the 25 parcels of private land the State needed, Ramsingh said they received claims from 20 parcels.

“We gave unconditional offers to 19 of the parcels in terms of payment.”

Outlining the details, Ramsingh said ten property owners requested an 80 per cent advance payment totalling $24 million. The remaining 20 per cent still has to be paid.

Three homeowners, he said, have already collected 100 per cent payment. “We just have two negotiations that are ongoing and one claim to be submitted.” He said $45 million was the figure the Commissioner of State Lands had given as an “unconditional offer.”

“The State paid everybody 80 per cent and we also made land available to them in Frederick Settlement based on a social survey. These lands were made available to them at a reduced price…it (land) was less than $300,000. All the residents took advantage of it.”

He said most of the people who were dislocated have started to build their new homes.

Sinanan said Cabinet approved $86 million to be paid to home and business owners whose properties fell in the direct path of the interchange.

“That is why we have estimated that we will complete the land acquisition way within the reduced budget that Cabinet has agreed to. We are well within that budget with just three more properties to complete.”

Sinanan said if property owners feel that the value the State offered for their lands was unfair, they can seek redress through the court and “what they will get is interest at a rate of six per cent on the difference” upon completion of the matter.