President revokes Red House lease

…orders Cheddi Jagan Centre to vacate by tomorrow

resident David Granger has ordered that the lease for Red House, which houses the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre Incorporated (CJRCI) on High Street, Kingston, Georgetown, be revoked and gave the occupants up to December 31, 2016 to vacate the property.

This instruction was passed on to Minister of State Joseph Harmon on Thursday, via a letter from the Head of State, a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency revealed.

Based upon advice of Legal Affairs Minister and Attorney General Basil Williams, President Granger concluded that it would be in the public’s interest for the lease, issued to the CJRCI, to be revoked.

In the same communiqué, he also directed the Minister of State that the building be assigned to house “The National Trust of Guyana, its staff, stores and equipment”. The National Trust, which is currently housed in the Valerie Rodway Building on Carmichael Street, Georgetown, is ordered to be shifted over to the Lots 65, 66, and 67 High Street property with effect from January 1, 2017, where the President felt it would be better able to fulfil its mandate to preserve Guyana’s national patrimony and to promote an appreciation for the nation’s heritage.

Move unconscionable and vindictive

Meanwhile, Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo has since labelled the President’s decision as “unconscionable and vindictive”. When contacted for a response on Thursday evening, the Opposition Leader would only say that he has advised the committee that manages Red House to challenge the order passed down by the Head of State.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo
Opposition Leader
Bharrat Jagdeo

“I spoke with some of the members of the committee and I indicated to them that we should vigorously challenge this unconscionable, vindictive act of the Granger Administration,” he stated. Jagdeo noted that the committee is expected to issue a more detailed response on the matter shortly.

This move comes more than one year after the coalition Government had engaged the CJRCI on the matter of the lease. That engagement included negotiations for the Red House to provide a national service by housing information on all of the Presidents of Guyana.

However, those negotiations proved futile and in an invited comment, Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams, said that after discussions broke down, he sought to determine the legality of the lease agreement.president-david-granger-3

Hence, the Minister released a detailed statement on Wednesday highlighting that his investigations revealed that the lease held by the CJRCI is invalid on several grounds, including the fact that there is no evidence that the President of the day had sanctioned it.

According to Williams, the Commissioner of Lands & Surveys (CL&S) is the custodian of all Government Lands granted to him by the President, thus there must be evidence of the President approving leases under Section 10 of the Lands Department Act Chapter 59:01.

“It is submitted that upon a proper perusal of file#413112/11 there is no formal evidence of sanction or approval by the President of the Day and the lease is invalid,” he stated.

The AG went on to explain that after the CJRCI was incorporated in March 2000 as a non-profit entity, a lease was drawn up that year between the Government of Guyana and the National Trust as ‘Lessors’ and CJRCI as ‘Lessees’ however that document was not executed.

He pointed out too that in May 2006, the then General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), Donald Ramotar, made application to the CL&S on behalf of the CJRCI for a lease of Red House lands. A file was opened and in 2010, the application was resubmitted to the then Office of the President.

Williams added that as of January 2011, that resubmission was also not approved as there is no evidence of any signature of the President on the purported Schedule, only those of the then CL&S, Doorga Persaud, and the Manager, Land Administration, Enrique Monzie, were affixed.

“On 30th day of March 2012 the Red House lease was purportedly executed by the CL&S and Mr Ralph Ramkarran SC for the lessees. Again there was no formal approval by the President of the Day, or the National Trust, rendering the lease invalid, and a nullity in law. The President can properly revoke it,” the AG outlined.

However, in a statement on Thursday, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall posited that the contention that the lease is invalid because the President did not ‘sanction’ it is an argument that is manifestly wrong.

He pointed out that although the power to lease, sell or grant licenses in relation to lands which fall under State Lands Act and the Regulations made thereunder resides with the President, the legislation provides for the President to delegate such authority to the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys, the Commissioner of Forestry or the Commissioner of Geology and Mines or the Manager of the MMA/ADA.

“The practice of delegating these responsibilities to subordinate functionaries is one that started since the tenure of President Arthur Chung, and has continued on to this day. So, while the President’s name may appear on the face of a lease in relation to State Lands, the President’s signature is not at the end of the lease, instead, some authorised public officer signs for the President,” Nandlall outlined, while adding that the same thing was done in relation to the Red House lease and “the argument, therefore, that the President did not sanction it is hopelessly wrong.”

Williams moreover had further advanced that the lease was invalid since it was not executed before a Court or Judge and filed, as of record, in the Deeds Registry as is required by Section 13 of the Deeds Registry Act. However, the former AG pointed out that there is no such legal requirement since Section 13 of the Deeds Registry Act contains a proviso which states that the Section does not apply to leases for State lands (and Government lands).

Nandlall stated that the amount of time Government is expending in trying to set aside the Red House Lease is indicative of how skewed its priorities are and how politically vindictive it can get.