The attorneys for KP Thomas Construction Co Ltd obtained an order from Chief Justice Ian Chang yesterday restraining Minister of Public Works Robeson Benn and Attorney General Charles Ramson from dismantling the building the company occupies at High and Lamaha Streets.
Workers from the Ministry of Public Works began demolishing the Kingston property occupied by KP Thomas yesterday morning on Benn’s instructions.
Roysdale Forde, attorney for Ken Thomas, owner of the company, told this newspaper yesterday evening that when the order was served it was not acted on immediately, and the police on duty were reluctant to intervene. Eventually the demolition was halted some time between 3.30 and 4 pm, he said. The matter will come up for hearing before Justice Chang tomorrow at 10 am.
When Stabroek News arrived at the location earlier in the day, an angry Ken Thomas and workers from the Ministry of Works could be heard arguing under the watchful eye of scores of police officers who were gathered at the scene.
Thomas told Stabroek News that he could not understand the reason for the Minister’s decision to tear the place apart when he, (Thomas) had been paying his rent for the property on time and honouring all of his obligations as a legal tenant there.
“My rent is always paid on time, I have nothing owing, nothing outstanding and I really don’t know why they just tearing the place apart,” Thomas said.
The owner of the construction company, who said he had been conducting business there for more than 24 years, told this newspaper that the land and the building had been rented by him from the Government of Guyana and the Ministry of Public Works and he had never once received any notice requesting that he should move.
“We were never served with documents or anything saying that we should move,” he maintained; “from what we were told by the workers is that they were sent by the Minister to destroy the building and all our belongings.”
However Minister Benn at a press briefing called later yesterday told media operatives that the owner of the construction company had been told time and again that he must leave the premises, but had always displayed an unwillingness to do so thus culminating in yesterday’s demolition exercise.
Benn said that against the backdrop of government’s thrust to clean up the reserves for a safer environment and to ensure that no liabilities were incurred, KP Thomas had been served again and again with notices advising them to leave. “Everyone on that embankment has moved so far, except them,” he said.
Both the property and the building belonged to the government, the Minister said, and the government now needed it for its own purposes. He went on to say that the property was originally rented to Ken Thomas’s father who was now dead, and that “ever since his death, no new arrangement has ever been put in place.”
An angry Benn said that when the man’s sons took over their father’s business, they were called by him, (Benn) and told in no uncertain terms that they needed to remove because the Government of Guyana had uses for the property. He said that as recently as March of this year, the Thomas brothers had been told once more that they needed to move, adding that “as a matter of fact it was only the building that was leased to them and not even the land.”
“I called them in and I told them that the government wanted the building and land for its use, so I don’t know how they can now claim that they were never told or served with notices indicating that they needed to remove. Apart from that, ever since I became Minister we have always served them with notices to vacate more than three years now,” the Minister said.
The Public Works Minister also said that the rents had not been collected from the brothers for quite some time. “They are not tenants and as such we have refused to take their cheques”; the rental being paid by the men, he went on, was “peanuts anyway,” for a property located in such a prime location.
The Minister further said that the government reserve embankment which now housed new power lines running all the way to Sophia could be hazardous and the government did not want to have liabilities on their hands.
Benn who said that his ministry was forced to take this course of action emphasised that there were a number of other such persons who were also told to vacate government lands and had not yet done so. He urged that they “get their acts together and make it right now because a day when such a course of action will be taken is coming.”