Defiant tenants continue to occupy the run-down First Federation building on Croal Street and Manget Place, despite a warning issued to vacate the premises.
Several tenants, speaking to Stabroek News yesterday, said that they refuse to be bullied into moving since the “government” is seeking financial gain by removing them. “They want the building so that they can sell it to gain money,” one tenant said.
During Stabroek News’s visit yesterday people were seen entering and exiting the rickety structure to conduct business. At the entrance of the four-storey building, there was a small heap of garbage. The hallways were dark and reeked of urine and decaying trash. The floor was slippery with what appeared to be spilt tar. Electric wires were pulled out of wall and exposed. There was no proper electricity, except for a small generator stationed outside the building. The staircase leading to the top of the building was rotten and shaky.
“There is no sign that it is falling apart,” said Saphier Husain, a lawyer whose office is in the building. When asked why he would remain in a building that security officials said could collapse, Husain dismissed the question. He argued vehemently that the building was in “tip top shape” and that the warning issued by the Official Receiver that the building poses a hazard to humans was another strategy to fraudulently attain the property.
“I am a lawyer and I cannot allow them to bully and unlawfully force [us] out,” he chided, while arguing that he has been occupying the building for over 27 years and it was evident that the government is sabotaging the issue to gain control over the building. “They are intentionally not maintaining the building,” he charged, while opining that it was the reason for the seemingly run down of the structure.
Currently, Husain has four persons working for him in the building. His office is on the top floor of the concrete structure. He refused to accept that the building is dangerous for human occupancy and that they are occupying it at their own risk. “There was a tremor the other day and the building didn’t even shift. So which part of it is falling apart? Where is the sign?” he argued.
He protested that the government has destroyed his door and thrown waste fluid mixed with tar at the entrance of the building as a means to deter them from entering. His electricity, he said, was illegally disconnected because of “ulterior motives”.
He added that he will continue to fight the government in court. “The government wants to steal the building!” he charged, adding that the he will continue to stand up for his legal rights. “I cannot allow them to bully us and disregard the law…if that’s it then I should give up my practice,” he said, demanding justice.
“Where is the rule of law in this country?” he asked. “The building belongs to the First Federation Mutual Life Insurance Company…all the newspapers in the country have reported that the building belongs to the state,” he added.
‘Business is still doing’
Another tenant, who works in a photocopying store in the building, said that store continues to function regardless of the warning issued. He said he had been dragged to court to fight for something that didn’t belong to the people who are fighting him. “Business is still doing. We ain’t moving,” he said, when Stabroek News spoke to him yesterday morning during a visit to see if people were still braving the warning and carrying out business in the building. “They keep carrying us to court but we ain’t moving,” he added. One employee who works for a driving school that was recently conducting business on the premises said that her boss told her to stay in the building to redirect clients to their new location, a corner away. In an advertisement in the October 20 edition of the Sunday Chronicle, the Official Receiver of the building had stated that current hazard inspections revealed that the building was a dangerous place for “human occupancy”. The government advised that persons not enter the building and tenants to immediately evacuate the premises since it was said to be hazardous and could possibly collapse.
Over the years the building had become the subject of an intense dispute over ownership, to which the government has staked possession over the protest of some tenants.
The dispute heated up when the Guyana Power and Light (GPL) cut power supply in the building—a stance that many tenants said was part of detailed plan of government to evict them from the building.
However, Attorney General Anil Nandlall has maintained that the move was necessary since the building was considered a “public health hazard” and he questioned how professional people could inhabit such a building.
“There is also a possibility that the building may collapse, making it unsafe for human occupancy. In the circumstances and the interest of life and overall safety of persons conducting business in the First Federation Mutual Life Insurance Company Ltd building, all are advised to refrain from entering the building, and those in occupation are advised to vacate same immediately,” the advertisement said in the Sunday Chronicle.
It also stated that earlier this year, the City Engineer’s Department had considered the building to be in a dire state that is dangerous to its occupants, passersby and buildings in proximity.
A fire prevention inspection was also carried out on the building and revealed that the building was in a state of disrepair. “Faulty and illegal electrical wiring and electrical points/ outlets that are not insulated were found,” the ad stated. Husain said that if the building had to be demolished then the tenants should be compensated for the established reputation of their business.