Workers of the Ministry of the Presidency hammered down the hallmark sign of the Red House even though a court order has blocked officers of the State from entering or removing any artefacts from the premises/building.
A major commotion erupted outside of Red House, Kingston, on Friday afternoon as the workmen stripped the building of its identity and barred the gates to the premises even though Government had given the occupants up to today to vacate the property.
Members of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) rushed to the scene to defend the legacy of former President Dr Cheddi Jagan, where a standoff between the Government workers ensued. Police were also summoned to the scene.
The workmen attempted to transport the wooden sign bearing the words “Cheddi Jagan Research Centre” but fierce opposition from the PPP members and stewards of the Red House prevented them from completing the task they were ordered to do by the Government.
The men eventually drove off in a canter and the PPP members worked together with others on the scene to re-hoist the sign onto the building.
President David Granger’s order to revoke the lease for the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre was on Friday afternoon successfully challenged by former Attorney General Anil Nandlall on behalf of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre Incorporated (CJRCI) – the organisation with oversight of the activities of Red House.
The court documents seen by Guyana Times ordered all items, property and artefacts stored at Red House not to be interfered with or removed until further ordered. The ruling was handed down by Chief Justice (AG) Yonette Cummings-Edwards and the matter will be heard again on February 20, 2017.
Attorney General Basil Williams and Commissioner of Lands and Surveys Doorga Persaud, listed as defendants, were granted leave to file an Affidavit in Answer within 21 days. The CJRCI, the applicant, will then have to file an Affidavit in Reply within 14 days.
Granger on Thursday announced that the Red House lease will be revoked, based on advice from his Attorney General that the agreement is invalid.
Williams had argued that lease held by the CJRCI is invalid on several grounds, including that there is no evidence that the President of the day had sanctioned it.
Questioned on this detail, former President Bharrat Jagdeo during a news conference on Friday contended that the Attorney General’s assertion is nothing but “nonsense” and that he “does not know what he’s talking about.”
Jagdeo highlighted that in all his years as Head of State, he never once signed a lease agreement between the Government of Guyana and the lessee.
Nonetheless, Granger ordered that the occupants of Red House vacate the premises by today as he has plans to house the Guyana National Trust, its staff, stores and equipment in that building – which is the former home of Dr Cheddi Jagan and is associated with his life’s work and legacy.
The Research Centre was established in 1999 to promote research into and publish materials on the life, work and ideas of Dr Jagan.
The prime land on which Red House sits was leased to the CJRCI for 999 years for $12,000 per year.
The A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change coalition Administration was initially adverse to the small fee being charged and had started engaging the directors of the Research Centre on the possibility of transforming the Red House into a hub for all former Presidents.
The Management Committee, which included former President Donald Ramotar, strongly objected to this move, and told the Government to find independent sites for the establishment of similar research centres for the other Guyanese leaders.
Particularly, Ramotar posited that former Presidents Desmond Hoyte and Forbes Burnham never shared the same ideology and philosophy of Dr Jagan and therefore, it would be a total dishonour for Red House to be converted into a depository for all past Presidents.
According to the documents, the CJRCI Management Committee had proposed to pay a higher lease but Government never responded to the offer.
The documents explained that the AG undertook to convey the proposals to his principals and provide feedback but this never materialised.
It outlined that the next official word from Government regarding the issue was the announcement in the media that the lease will be revoked.
Acting in vain
But reports indicate that Government had already revoked the lease agreement several days ago.
Attorney Nandlall said the AG told the Court on Friday afternoon that the lease was “revoked several days ago” and that Government had already taken possession of Red House; therefore, the Court will be acting in vain.
Nonetheless, among the reliefs sought in the proceedings are a declaration that the lease to CJRCI is valid, binding and in force; and a declaration that the revocation or threatened revocation of the said lease is unlawful, illegal, contrary to and in breach of CJRCI’s fundamental right not to be deprived of its property that is, its 999 years lease hold-interests as guaranteed by article 142 of the Constitution; damages for breach of contract and breach of constitutional rights.
CJCRI is seeking in excess of $1 million for breach of Government’s lease agreement.
Crass and vulgar
Meanwhile, the move by the APNU/AFC Government has been described as the most crass and vulgar act of the authoritarian Administration.
These developments have sparked immense public outrage, with countless Guyanese condemning the Government for its unjustifiable attack on the legacy of Dr Jagan – who significantly contributed to the struggle for a free, independent and democratic Guyana.
The Opposition Leader, who was on site when the standoff with Government officers occurred, expressed that these attacks against Dr Jagan and his legacy is the height of indecency and callousness of the Government.
“This is heinous, reprehensible act on the part of this Government. They have so many things to deal with in this country than to come and do what they did here today (Friday) to forcibly eject the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre from this building,” Jagdeo said.