More Seafield rice farmers challenge president’s revocation of leases

Anil Nandlall

Three more Seafield, West Coast Berbice (WCB) rice farmers have moved to the court challenging President David Granger’s revocation of their land leases, which they say came without any warning and violates the constitution.

The farmers, Doreen Monah, Fariel Johnson and Sharon Solomon in addition to a declaration that would deem the revocation null and void, are asking the court to award them damages together totaling in excess of $3 million.

In court documents, which were prepared and filed by attorney-at-law Anil Nandlall, the Attorney General and the Mahaica-Mahaicony-Abary/Agricultural Development Authority (MMA/ADA) are listed as the respondents.

In the application filed by Solomon the Seafield Cooperative Society and Lincoln Samaroo are listed as additional respondents.

The three farmers, who collectively farm more than 30 acres of land located in the rear of Plantation Seafield, are asking the court for a declaration that the cancellation of their leases, issued under Section 3(b) of the State Lands Act and in accordance with the MMA/ADA Act, is contrary to and in violation of Article 142 of the Constitution and is unlawful, null, void and of no effect. They are also seeking a declaration that the cancellation amounts to the compulsorily acquisition of their respective leasehold interest, without the prompt payment of any or adequate compensation as is guaranteed by Article 142 of the Constitution. Also sought is a conservatory order prohibiting servants and/or agents of the MMA/ADA from entering upon, remaining, occupying or in any manner whatsoever interfering with the claimants’ quiet and peaceful possession, occupation and enjoyment of their lease lands as well as damages in excess of $1 million each for breach of their fundamental rights and freedoms as guaranteed by Articles 142 and 153 of the Constitution.

Solomon is also asking the court to grant a declaration that Samaroo is a trespasser, an injunction restraining Samaroo and the Seafield Cooperative Society from entering upon, remaining and/or in any other manner interfering with her peaceful and quiet possession, occupation of and enjoyment of the land, and an additional $100, 000 in damages for trespass.

The three matters are fixed for hearing before the Chief Justice (ag.) Roxane George, SC on March 21st at 3 pm.

In her application, Solomon explained that she and her common-law spouse were issued with a lease on the 5th day of November, 2014 after applying and paying the requisite fees. She said that she did not commence occupancy as another farmer, known as “Big Bull,” was occupying it, having rented the land from the Seafield Cooperative Society.

Sometime around September, 2015, after reaping his first crop, that farmer was forcibly removed by the society, which has refused to give up possession of the land and subsequently rented it to Samaroo, who remains on the land.

In 2015, the applicant said her spouse attempted to pay the annual rent to MMA/ADA but it refused to accept the payment.

On 18th day of March, 2016, Solomon said she observed a notice in the newspapers which spoke to the president’s cancellation of leases, including hers.

“…the Applicant was unaware of the reason why her Lease was cancelled and to date, no one has furnished her with any reason whatsoever in relation to the same,” the application argues, while noting that Article 142 of the Constitution prevents the State from compulsorily acquiring private property without prompt payment of adequate compensation.

The law, it was stated, also protects the deprivation of property of any description and/or any interest in or right over property of any description.

The application adds that the purported revocation is contrary to and in violation of the constitution.

Solomon argued that she was not afforded a hearing nor was she served with any notice in relation to or in connection with the purported revocation of her lease.

The applications of Johnson and Monah put forward similar arguments.

Johnson, who was also granted her lease in 2014, said that she too was unable to occupy her land because Samaroo was in possession of 13.8 acres. She said that MMA/ADA has requested that she permit Samaroo to reap a crop of rice that he has already planted on the condition that Samaroo pay a rental fee after reaping. According to Johnson, around April, 2015 Samaroo removed from the land and she commenced occupancy and paid her annual rent.

She too saw the notice of revocation of her lease in the newspapers. Earlier this month, she visited the MMA/ADA office and spoke to a “Mr. Charles,” the General Manager. Johnson noted that on December 12th, 2017 the acting Chief Justice ruled that the revocation of leases which were similar to her lease was unconstitutional.

“The Applicant thereafter inquired of Mr. Charles whether the Second Named Respondent would treat the revocation of her lease in the same manner and whether she would be permitted to pay annual rent to the Second Named Respondent; Mr. Charles informed the Applicant that he was advised that her lease was revoked and that he was also advised not to receive any rent from her until the hearing and determination of an appeal that was filed against the aforesaid decision of the Honourable Chief Justice (ag.) Madam Justice Roxane George S.C. made on the 12th December, 2017,” Johnson’s added.

She too argued that she is protected by the constitution.

According to Monah, following the publication of the notice in the newspapers, she was dispossessed of her 11.1 acres by Claude Cummings, Lloyd Moore and Edmond Gravesande, “who who informed her that the Second Named Respondent gave them “permission” to enter the said land since her lease was revoked.”

She argued that she is unaware of the reason behind the revocation and to date has not been furnished with a reason.

In January, she entered into possession of the land and planted a crop of rice and later visited “Mr. Charles,” who informed her that he was advised that her lease has been revoked and that he should not to collect rent until the appeal is determined.

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