Why have two First Federation Life building tenants had their electricity restored, and others are refused?

Dear Editor,

I have been in the First Federation Life building since 1973 and I do not like the impression the public is getting ‒ only hearing from one side.

I began my sojourn in that building in or about early 1973 as part of a film crew when Mr Hamley Case rented offices on the top floor for the making of his film Agro Seizeman.

Upon completion of that film I commenced working in November, 1973 with Mr R Jos Eleazar, attorney-at-law who at the time rented offices on the ground floor. The building was in immaculate condition. There were working lights, a cleaner for each floor, a working elevator and a guard at the door by the name of Mr Rodrigues with a logbook taking the name of every employee or visitor as they entered and left the building.

I left the building in 1975, and I returned on April 1, 1986, when I opened Sanford & Son Real Estate Agency, at that time sharing office space with Mr Nills Campbell, a well-known journalist.

There were two insurance companies housed in the building: First Federation Life Insurance Company and the New India Insurance Company. The First Federation Life Insurance was wound up in 1988 and the Official Receiver was appointed Provisional Liquidator. She took over management of the building, the income from which was to repay policyholders and pay the utilities, etc.

After the offices once occupied by the company became available, I was able to rent one on the top flat of the building and on March 12, 1991, my tenancy commenced in respect of Room 3 with Ms Agard signing as the Official Receiver.  I never owed any rent for that office and my rent was paid yearly and in full and was so paid up to 31st December, 2012. Rent was refused from January, 2013.

After 1988 when the Official Receiver took over,

maintenance of the building ceased and the building began to deteriorate. Some tenants refused to pay rent because of the lack of maintenance by the rent collector who some of the tenants claimed was in breach of their tenancy obligation coupled with the deteriorating condition of the building. By July 1994 the electricity, which was then in the name of First Federation Life Building, was disconnected for the sum of $79,316. The reading on the bill was (previous 5.5.94 and present 4.6. 94) rate B (business) and the meter number was 56867. The Official Receiver refused to pay the bill. Water was disconnected next.

Subsequent to this disconnection and the refusal of the Official Receiver to pay the amount due, I dispatched a letter to all of the tenants seeking donations of at least $3,000 per person to pay the bill and have the lights re-connected as we were suffering and no one was doing anything about our suffering. I was only able to muster the sum of $29,400 in donations. Ms Birget Corbin attorney-at-law who was then a tenant in the building and I, then decided to hold a takeaway barbecue on October 30, 1994 and together with the donations already received we raised the sum of $97,705. The amount realised paid off the electricity bill, a reconnection fee of $1,500 and the balance of the money fixed the toilets, painted the corridors from the top floor all the way to the entrance of the building and paid someone to scrub the floors on all four floors.

Unfortunately however, despite the payment of the bill and reconnection fee, the then Guyana Electricity Corporation refused to re-connect the power to the building on the grounds of “faulty wiring” and all tenants were advised to apply for their own meters and supply of electricity to their individual offices. In doing so we had to have our respective offices re-wired and certified by the Government Electrical Inspectorate Division in Kingston.  We complied and upon production of the Certificates of Inspection to the then GEC we entered into private contracts with GEC and I was issued with meter No. 108557.  So for all intents and purposes, and this is important, the previous wiring to the building itself under meter No. 56867 was dead and without any power from July, 1994 to the present time.

For the next couple of years, with the help of and minimal contributions from a few other tenants, I carried out maintenance work from time to time whenever the condition of the building became unbearable. I rented another room (Room 2) February 1, 2006 and was paying that rent quarterly while paying Room 3’s rent yearly. Someone rented a few rooms to operate a school and was able to get a rebate in rent to fix the rooms to their own benefit and purpose.

I went into the rent collecting office and questioned that decision and made my case about the maintenance the Official Receiver should have been doing and I was forced to do and for which I should also be receiving a rebate.

By the time a decision was to be taken the person who held the position of Official Receiver/Public Trustee resigned from the position to take up more lucrative employment. For years thereafter there was no one appointed to the position but persons were put there to act from time to time and each person would say because of their non-appointment to the position they could not make such a decision.  I had then stopped the maintenance and the building had again deteriorated to an unbearable state.

I was then advised to speak with the then PS and this I did.  I discussed with her about taking care of the maintenance of the interior of the building and receiving a rebate of rent for the room I rented in 2006. I then suggested that they take some of the rent they had collected over the years and give the exterior of the building a facelift. She agreed that I would do the maintenance and bring in the bills to get the rebate. However, with respect to the facelift, she said she would not be able to make a decision as it would have to go to cabinet. She further said that in addition, there were several tenants who owed a lot of rent so she did not know how cabinet would view it.

With some contributions from a few tenants, I went ahead and took measures to do extensive renovation of the interior of the building including raising the floor on the ground floor to stop the flooding of the building. By the time the renovation was completed the PS was removed from that post and sent elsewhere and I was left stuck with the bills. To date, I am currently out of pocket in the sum of $715,000. I did not pay any rent for Room 2 from April 2007 to now in lieu of the expenditure incurred for maintenance.

Soon after the maintenance was completed a young man rented a few rooms to conduct afternoon lessons but instead opened another school in the building with children he could not control.  There was littering, cursing, fighting, sex in the classrooms and abuse of tenants who attempted to speak to the children. Within a year the building suffered deterioration again.

There were also rumours in 2008 that the government was looking to acquire the building to house Magistrates’ courts. However, there were further rumours that that idea was shelved because the building had a structural engineering problem and it would be very costly as it would have to be demolished and then re-built for that purpose.

Recently, in late 2011 to early 2012, another set of rumours surfaced that a prominent businessman was after the building and that a sizeable purchase price was arrived at. In May, 2012 I began to actively look for alternative, affordable office space.

In July 2012, I received a notice to quit along with other tenants.  A summons followed on January 23, 2013 and the Attorney General appeared in person in the Magistrate’s court on two occasions to represent the Public Trustee at whose instance the summons was issued, even though there were several lawyers attached to those chambers. While the matters were pending, all tenants then received a notification from the Public Trustee dated March 1, 2013 with a document attached supposedly signed by Mr Lloyd Alleyne City Engineer (ag) dated February 20, 2013.

The letter is interesting to read and speaks of a “concrete and wooden” building. This building is fully concrete. This letter was used to support one of the grounds for possession which was “urgent repairs.” However, when the Attorney General outlined the repairs necessary, they did not support the penultimate paragraph of the letter which said: “In the interest of public safety, the building must also be free of all occupants before repairs commence”. Another ground for possession was “own use.” However, it was submitted that the Public Trustee does not own the building but is holding it on trust for the First Federation Life. The building is still in the company’s name by virtue of Transport No. 1132 of 1964 and the fact that all the debts have been liquidated and the Official Receiver’s duty is completed, the building should be returned to its original owner “The Company” or the shareholders.

Page 81 of the book The Civil Law of British Guiana, under the topic “Trustee Act, 1893 Vesting of Trust Property,” the author explains that a transport or conveyance is still necessary to complete the transfer to the new trustees.

After several defences were filed and one ground in particular “own use” was vigorously attacked, and extensive oral submissions made by Mr Saphier Husain a tenant and attorney-at-law, the matters were withdrawn against all tenants by the Attorney General through two lawyers of the Attorney General’s Chambers on April 10, 2013.

Another strategy was then employed and all tenants received a notice dated May 17, 2013 but delivered on June 3, 2013. It outlined several electrical problems/defects found in the building.  I immediately called in my certified electrician who confirmed that none of these problems existed within my chambers/offices.

I responded to Chief Electrical Inspector Barclay’s letter on June 4, 2013, and pointed out the findings of my certified electrician. I also pointed out that at no time did anyone come to inspect my offices within the building. I subsequently got a rude response accusing my secretary of refusing at the time to let the inspectors into the office. My secretary cried for about 5 minutes over the lies perpetrated and when I enquired of other tenants it was confirmed that no one came and asked to inspect the interior of any office in the building. What was reported by the few who had seen them, was that about three or four men were walking around the corridors of the building and looking around. My secretary reported that one came to the door and enquired whether the meter which is located right by the front door is ours. She said yes. He looked up at it, said ok, and continued on his way.

In addition to pointing out that the conditions outlined do not exist in my office, which has independent wiring from the general building, I pointed out that it may not relate to the building itself as the electricity had been disconnected since 1994 and there is no power to the original wiring.

Despite all of this and despite the fact that no monies are owing by me to GPL, I received a letter dated July 15, 2013 on July 19, 2013, which made reference to a GEI letter that was not in fact enclosed as stated, and which stated that the investigation of the GEI revealed that the electrical wiring and installation present a danger to life and property. It made reference to a section of the Act which allows immediate disconnection.

On the morning of Saturday, July 20, 2013, I was informed by another tenant that all the wires supplying electricity to the various independent offices were cut from the lantern post and left hanging at the side of the building.

On July 23, 2013 the electricity supply to Mr Hunte’s office, a tenant, was reconnected and subsequently to Mr Jarvis, the tenant who operates one of the two schools in the building had his electricity supply reconnected.  I visited the Main Street Office of GPL on the morning of Thursday, July 25, and requested to speak with a Mr Homer who had signed the letter on behalf of GPL, in an effort to have my electricity supply re-connected like Hunte and Jarvis. I was told he is not available and I was instead spoken to by a supervisor who left to speak with someone. I had to leave to attend court at 11.30 and so I returned just after 1 pm. I was then advised by the supervisor that I should go to Kingston to speak with the legal officer.

I knew I was put on a royal runaround and was wasting my time but I still complied and engaged in a lengthy discussion outlining the facts and at the end of the discussion I got the famous words, “I am not promising anything but I will look into it.”

My questions are: Which wires are posing a danger to life and property? The dead wires in the building outside of the occupied offices which were deprived of power since 1994; or the wires in my offices which were admittedly never inspected  and which a certified electrician said were in order and that none of the conditions outlined in the letter existed in my two offices?

If these conditions do exist how did Mr Hunte who is on the ground floor and Mr Jarvis who is on the same top floor where my offices are located have their electricity re-connected?

If the conditions are good for these two then they are good for me to be re-connected as Mr Barclay’s letter is false. Someone who knows me said that it was admitted that Mr Barclay’s instructions “are coming from big ones.”

Is the Attorney General showing the general public that these are the tactics that they should employ to get tenants out of their premises?  How more lawless can Guyana get?

Yours faithfully,
Gem Sanford-Johnson

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