BM Soat dropped appeal after settling with gov’t over tearing down of structure

–Ramjattan

BM Soat withdrew its appeal against the Public Works Ministry’s tearing down of a structure at Success, East Coast Demerara, after reaching a settlement with government, according to Khemraj Ramjattan, lawyer for the former.

He made this statement in a letter in yesterday’s edition of Stabroek News in response to a statement issued on Saturday by the Ministry which said that Bashier Mohammed of BM Soat had withdrawn his appeal against the government and this had vindicated its stance that BM Soat had illegally occupied the parapet.

Ramjattan said he wanted other property owners who were in the same position as BM Soat to be aware that the withdrawal of the appeal did not concede that the land was owned by the state. He said that the manner in which the ministry described the matter on Saturday was aimed at dissuading other property owners from taking legal action for compensation.

On Saturday, the ministry said that all actions on Mohammed’s part in the court with respect to his occupation of “public land” which led to the Ministry of Works breaking down an encumbrance at Success had ceased.

The release said that Mohamed’s withdrawal confirmed the Ministry’s argument that it was correct in its move to remove the illegal structures at Success, which included a fence. The removal was necessary for road expansion works on the East Coast.

The Ministry’s position has always been that the erected fence, which was at the centre of the legal wrangle, had to be removed in accordance with the 1973 property boundary line, the ministry’s release said.

“BM Soat’s (intransigence) in this matter severely delayed the much needed road widening works for up to two years and placed an enormous burden on taxpayers.

“It is hoped that the turnaround in Mohammed’s attitude will be an object lesson for all those who are illegally occupying Government lands. Guyana’s development cannot be held hostage for the selfish interest of a select few.

“Furthermore, the Ministry will continue the removal of encumbrances on Government lands along the main public roads. Notices of this activity have again been placed in all national newspapers”, the release said.

Ramjattan’s letter put on a different complexion on the matter.

“Let me make it very clear. The only reason why the matter of Bashier Mohamed v Ministry of Works and the Attorney General was withdrawn was a simple instruction from my client to the effect: `“Mr Ramjattan the other side and myself work out a settlement after days of negotiation. They want it confidential. I happy with that,  Sir.  Please withdraw.’ I did as per instruction and filed same on January 7, 2014”,  Ramjattan said.

He said that on the previous date in court,  December 31, 2013, he and N Hughes, Associate Counsel, argued that the Attorney General and Chief Works Officer had to purge their contempt in view of the violation of  the judge’s December 27, 2013 order  restraining them from any interference or demolition of the structure at Success. Ramjattan said that Mohamed had signed an affidavit stating that though they were served with the order of the court, the AG and Chief Works Officer went ahead and demolished the structure.

Ramjattan said the Attorney General attempted to argue that the Judge had no jurisdiction to grant the conservatory order as he did on December 27, 2013. Ramjattan said that the judge made clear that even if his Order was defective it must be obeyed. Ramjattan said that the AG then argued that he was not served on time.

“This flew in the face of the annotation by a Court of Appeal staff member, Mr. Ronnell McKenzie, who had served on the said day at 1.40 pm on the Secretary of Chief Works Officer, and at 1.45 on a staff member at the Attorney General Chambers.

“It was at this point that the Justice of Appeal then ordered that the AG file an Affidavit in response to what was alleged against him and the Chief Works Officer, the alleged (contemnors)  of his Court Order.

Additionally, he granted a gag order against anyone, including ministry officials and the press from carrying stories on this matter until further ordered.

And he continued the Conservatory Order amending it to the extent of adding that the AG and the ministry officials must not attempt to enter the said premises!”, Ramjattan stated.

Ramjattan said that when he got the call from BM Soat to withdraw, it was the last thing in his mind that he was ever conceding that the land was not his.

“At all stages of the litigation I was of the view that compensation had to be paid for deprivation of my client’s property. But the AG and Works Ministry was saying it was their land since Burnham in 1973 had compulsorily acquired it by paying off transport holders. Strangely, at the trial before Chang CJ, no compulsory order was ever presented, nor any evidence of compensation, namely how much or to whom paid, was ever presented though this was asked for. And Chang CJ never made any ruling as to proprietorship of that disputed land!

So there could be no Court Order in the ministry’s hand pronouncing that the land belongs to the ministry by Chang’s ruling! Absolutely not!” Ramjattan declared.

He said the ministry’s statement was  intended to persuade transport holders in this area not to institute legal proceedings for compensation.

“I write this letter in response to such deception, so that citizens will be aware of their rights”, Ramjattan said.

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