President wades into Red House dispute, vows to fight misuse of state property

Using Kamana Court, known by most as Red House, as a reference, President David Granger yesterday vowed to fight the misuse of state property and said that he will also endeavour to ensure the preservation of the history of all of Guyana’s presidents.

“One of the first things I did when I went into the Ministry of the Presidency was put up all the portraits of all of the Presidents of Guyana as a constant reminder because thousands of children come into the Ministry of the Presidency and they see all nine presidents not one, all nine presidents,” Granger noted at a brunch for the media at State House.

He was at the time pointing to the importance of accurate reportage by the media using the controversy surrounding Red House as an example.

On the 29th of December 2016, Granger ordered that the controversial lease for the historic High Street building to the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre Incorporated (CJRCI) be revoked and that the occupants vacate the property in two days. His move has sparked off controversy and heated public exchanges in the press and elsewhere.

The PPP/C administration in 2012 had quietly leased Red House  to the CJRCI  for 99 years at a rate of $1,000 per month.

A battery of lawyers representing CJRCI moved to the High Court following the revocation order seeking to prevent its eviction and orders were granted on consent to prevent the removal of property from the premises. The matter is returnable for February 20, 2017.

After the court hearing, several men with the insignia of the Ministry of the Presidency on their clothing descended on the property and broke the CJRCI signboard and changed a padlock. Police were called in and the men eventually left the building after they were confronted by the occupants.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams SC has defended the government’s move to retake possession of Red House, arguing that the occupation of the building amounted to trespassing in light of the unlawful manner in which the “purported lease” was granted.

“The transaction was birthed in darkness but on us taking office it came into glorious light. This government pledged during the campaign to restore the rule of law in Guyana and that’s what we are doing and we will continue to do that. So, all of those crocodile tears that have been shed, they have not addressed the fact that at all material times, anyone occupying the land would have been trespassing as well as the building,” Williams said.

“…We acted properly when we exercised our right… the government right to retake possession of the building and the lands,” he added.

Williams argued that the purported lease granted to CJRCI for the Kingston land where the heritage building is located was invalid as it was not sanctioned by any president, in keeping with the law. He also said the lease did not include the building.

According to Williams, a Cabinet decision around 2000 had resulted in the property being placed in the custody of the National Trust.  This, he said, prevented the building from being sold, or disposed of otherwise without the sanction of the relevant minister or the president.

He noted that the lease was made under the Land Department Act, which provides for the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys to rent or sell government land albeit with the sanction of the president.

He said efforts were made in 2006, 2010 and 2011 to gain the approval of then president Bharrat Jagdeo for the lease but it was never signed.

Although he noted that in March of 2012 the lease was taken to court and signed by the then Commissioner of Lands and Surveys, Doorga Persaud and Senior Counsel and member of the CJRCI, Ralph Ramkarran, he said Jagdeo’s successor, Donald Ramotar, also did not authorise the lease.

Disrespectful

For his part, President Granger believes that the PPP has been very disrespectful to other presidents in its justification for using Red House.

Granger pointed to a November 6th 2015, article in the Stabroek News titled ‘PPP rejects use of Red House for other presidents -says would be anathema to have Burnham, Hoyte in same building’.  Granger said that the divisive and “vile” tone of party must never go unnoticed .

‘“To associate Red House with Burnham, Hoyte and perhaps later Granger would be a historical misnomer and contrary to the progressive anti-colonial and anti-imperialist ideas, thoughts and memories associated with Cheddi Jagan…In the circumstances, it would be anathema to disperse, integrate and to contaminate all that Jagan stood and fought for with the reactionary pro-imperialist, repressive and oppressive praxis of the Burnham/Hoyte regime,” Granger read, as he quoted Stabroek News’ reportage of a PPP press release.

“Moreover, looked at in the context of the wider society, since there is certainly no semblance of unity nor cooperation between the PPP and the PNC, why seek to promote a falsehood by placing the founder leaders and political adversaries of these parties under one roof? Such an act can be characterized as the epiphany of surrealism and consequently, abhorrent and distasteful to the hundreds of thousands of members and supporters of the PPP in particular, and all decent-minded Guyanese in general,” he added, referring to what the PPP press release said.

He added that when looking at the Red House issue it was important to look at the views of both his party and the PPP’s on the issue.

“Yet we have someone saying that Granger will contaminate the memory of Cheddi Jagan…It is not a question of law my brothers and sisters, it is not a question about right, this is the mentality that is driving the battle for Kamana Court. Somebody is accusing persons not associated with one party of contamination. I find that offensive.  I ask persons who are reporting on these matters to research“, the President stressed.

And he as he quoted from the Holy Bible book of Ephesians 6:12, the president vowed to ensure state property is used for its rightful purpose.

“It is not that they would sit and reason that we would use state property for a public good, people are becoming vile and talking about contamination. I am not going to give up state property. I am going to participate in ensuring that the children of this country can recognize for all time all the presidents starting from Arthur Chung right down to David Granger,” he asserted.

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