Govt speaks on Red House issue

GINA, Guyana, Saturday, January 7, 2017

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams today, stated the government is within its legal right with regards its eviction of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre(CJRC) from Red House.

The Attorney General at a press conference at the National Communications Network (NCN) today, stated that when the government took office in May, 2015 it discovered that anyone occupying lots 65, 66 and 67 and the Red House Building would be trespassing.

Minister Williams explained that the occupants were given adequate notice, “Nearly two years, so we acted properly when we exercised the state rights to retake possession of the buildings and lands.”

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams addressing the media during a press conference at the National Communications Network

In fact, the occupants had no status as a tenant and “having announced the nature of the transaction and the fact that prime lands were transacted by persons close to the government or within the then government at a rent of  $1,000. a Month, it is clear that such a transaction could be fraudulent or a criminal transaction.”

The Minister emphasised that as trespassers, the government had no right to provide any notice. He said that under the previous administration none was given when they wanted to remove persons from government lands.

While providing a concise explanation of the lease presented by the Opposition party, Minister Williams quoted that the lease states: “the leaser hereby leases unto the lessee all that piece or parcel of government land situate at Kingston, Georgetown, more fully described as follows: area A now called Red House comprising lots 65, 66 and 67 High Street, Kingston situate in the city of Georgetown, county of Demerara.”

According to the Attorney General, the lease does not say anything about the building, so “this is clear indication that they could not transact in the Red House building so  they were trying to obfuscate the system by using Red House instead of using the Red House building…”

He added that buildings on government lands cannot be leased.

Minister Williams related that around the year 2000, the Red House building and the land -lots 65, 66 and 67 became custody of the National Trust and became a heritage site and a national monument. Therefore, the building cannot be sold, alienated or disposed of otherwise without the sanction of the Minister or President.

The Attorney General underlined that a draft lease was purported when the application was made in 2006 between the National Trust, the Government of Guyana and the CJRC, but it was never signed.

“So when we took office in May, 2015 we discovered that this purported lease existed in relation to Red House as described by the Opposition in the lease, but not the Red House Building.”

The lease was supposed to be for 99 years; if a lease is for 21 years or more section 13 of the Deeds Registry Act says such a lease must be executed in a manner in which  a transport is used.

“This means that a transparent process must be used where you publish the transaction in the official gazette and also advertise the transaction in the national newspapers, so that if anyone wants to make an objection they can file a notice of opposition. If there is no motion of opposition the transaction is passed in open court,” Minister Williams explained.

According to the Minister, this process was never undertaken which he believes was a deliberate attempt to hide that transaction from the eyes of Guyanese.

Further chapter 501 of section 13 of the Deeds Registry Act require that such a lease be filed in the Deeds Registry as a matter of record and it has to be annotated in relation to the record of the land. This was also not done. “The last annotation of those lands ( lots 65, 66 and 67) was last done in 1925 and we still have the records here.”

During March of 2012 the lease for that was taken to court and was signed by the then Commissioner of Lands and Survey Doorga Persaud and Senior Counsel and member of the CJRC, Ralph Rakarran.

“Efforts were made from 2000 and in 2006, 2010 and 2011 to get the approval of the president for the purposes of the lease. The lease was made under section 10 of the Land Department Act and that Act is chapter   5901 of the laws of Guyana. In section 10 it provides that the commissioner could sell government lands, but with the sanction or authority of the president,”

Minister Williams explained.

Authority was sought from then President Bharat Jagdeo from 2000-2011 to sign the lease, but President Jagdeo withheld his approval. “He did that for a decade because he didn’t want the shadow of the late Cheddi Jagan during his tenure.”

His successor Donald Ramotar also did not sign the lease so there was no presidential approval.

The Minister and Attorney General said that as a representative of government, his aim is to restore the rule of law in Guyana as the administration pledged during the 2015 election. “That is what we are doing and will continue to do.”