Contractual obligations are not honoured in Guyana

Dear Editor,

I have discovered that the average person in Guyana does not honour his contractual obligations easily. Guyanese breach contracts that are entered into on a regular basis, and this seems to be an accepted trend in Guyanese society.

Whether it is an agreement of sale or a simple landlord and tenant contract, fundamental terms or conditions are often breached, and there are many practising lawyers in Guyana who do not seem to know too much about the basic laws governing contracts.

Many businessmen in Guyana with properties enter into agreements of sale for properties when they are in financial difficulties. They use the proceeds from the sale to sort their financial problems out, and once they are back on their feet, they give you hell to secure a transfer of title or transport. They use their property as a mean of getting some fast cash, then a year or two later after refusing to transfer ownership, they offer you a refund, or search for ways to wiggle out of the deal.  No wonder there are so many matters in the courts. I am not a lawyer, but I am the holder of a Diploma in Commercial Law from a reputable college in the United States. Under certain circumstances a person can ask the court to render a contract null and void. If a contract is entered into by a minor, an insane person, under force or threat (duress and undue influences), if it is tainted with illegality, or if there is breach of one of the fundamental terms of the contract, commonly known as the Condition, the court can render the contract null and void.

I purchased a parcel of land about 18 months ago and the vendor has refused to make any effort to transfer the title to me, so I retained the service of a lawyer and took him to court for Specific Performance.  The man is the owner of the parcel of land by title for 8 years and 5 months. His defence is that according to the Central Housing and Planning Authority he cannot transfer the title until 10 years have elapsed. I am of the opinion that that is not the reason why he does not want to go ahead with the deal. Probably he has sold it a second time for more money, or he would like to resell. However, I enquired from Central Housing and Planning and I was told that if you purchase a plot of land from the Government of Guyana, and you would like to resell it before the lapse of the 10 years’ restriction period, all you need to do is to pay the penalty, and since the vendor has been the owner by title for over 8 years as in my case, the penalty would be negligible. Why are people so dishonest in this country?  My family and I purchased a house in Canada, and in 3 months we were able to get all of our ownership documents delivered to us by a broker.

The Superior Court of Canada does not go easy on people who do not honour their contractual obligations. The damages that are usually awarded are a major deterrent, but in Guyana people struggle for years to get what they are entitled to. Most lawyers in the US and Canada would not take your case if they look at it and realize that you are trying to cheat someone, but in Guyana there are many lawyers who are more than willing to take the case and burden a system that is already choked.

Your faithfully,

Fazal Gafoor

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