I note the interventions by Messieurs Ralph Ramkarran, Anil Nandlall and Donald Ramotar in response to the Red House issue. These interventions – coming from a highly decorated attorney and former Speaker of the National Assembly; a former Attorney-General and current Member of Parliament; and a former President of Guyana, respectively – are embarrassingly low on legal and derivative ethical specificity, and in the case of the former two, far too high on circuitous pseudo-jurisprudence. And every single one, as I have noted, completely ignores the role of the National Trust Act in this fiasco.
I will explain this is as simply as I can. The National Trust is the designated statutory body for the identification and preservation of built heritage sites, and certain artifacts, in Guyana, established under the National Trust Act of 1972. There are different levels of intervention in which the Trust, by law, can engage in a designated heritage site, ranging from a temporary preservation order to the gazetting of a site as a National Monument.
Red House is one of only nine gazetted National Monuments in Guyana and would have been so, as far my knowledge is concerned, prior to the 2012 ‘lease’ between the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission and Cheddi Jagan Research Centre, Inc.
What would automatically invalidate any such lease would be the provisions of the National Trust Act which read:
“(1) Where it appears to the National Trust that it is in the public interest that any monument should be preserved on account of the historic, architectural or archaeological interest attaching to it or its national importance the Trust may, by notice published simultaneously in the Gazette and one newspaper circulating in Guyana, declare the monument to be a national monument.
“(2) Upon publication of a notice under subsection (1) relating to a monument such monument, without further assurance, becomes the property of, and vests in, the National Trust, and where immovable property has, by virtue of this section, vested in the National Trust the Registrar of Deeds shall take due notice thereof and shall make such annotations on the records as may be necessary.”
(National Trust Act, Section 15 – National Monuments)
What this means is that no lease of any gazetted national monument can be valid without the explicit involvement of the National Trust as lessor.
And, as I previously noted in my first intervention, Section 3 of the Act requires prior permission from “the Minister” in such a case where the Trust is a party – the Minister referred to herein is the President, or a Minister delegated by him, since the Trust deals with issues of national patrimony.
Section 3 also provides for the appointment by the Minister of a Chairman and Members of the National Trust, including the Commissioner of Lands. I get a sense that some desperate flawed logic might have been at play in having the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys, Mr Doorga Persaud, sign perhaps ambiguously and implicitly as representative of both the Lands and Surveys Commission and the National Trust, but this would be a terribly weak legal arrangement at best.
While we may take it that for practical reasons presidential assent minus an actual signature might have been accepted practice for regular issuance of leases under the Lands and Survey Commission, no sane lawyer would argue in court, or in public, that such practice would extend to the National Trust Act and the National Trust as a public corporate body to facilitate transferral of a national monument under its ownership to a private corporation. And even in that scenario, in no reasonable interpretation of the law could Mr Persaud, merely by virtue of his signature or otherwise, be taken to be ‘the Minister’ under the National Trust Act, Section 3 (1).
The only scenario that would validate the current ‘lease’ by Cheddi Jagan Research Inc would be if the gazetted national monument that was Red House were deliberately taken off the lists as a national monument and out of the protection of the NTA prior to the lease, but I don’t believe even the PPP is capable of such an insidious manoeuvre.
Ramkarran, Nandlall and Ramotar have waxed eloquently about the rule of law and due process, and while I agree with them in spirit, it would help if any one of them were to specifically address the National Trust Act and why it was bypassed in seeking to award a lease over a gazetted national monument to a company owned and controlled by their political party, and the legal implications (or lack thereof) for the validity of the lease.
Otherwise, all we might be said to have had from them are eloquent but disingenuous arguments in support of what is essentially misappropriation of a state asset.
Cultural Policy Advisor
Government of Guyana