Last Updated on Thursday, 29 December 2016, 21:01 by Denis Chabrol
President David Granger has ordered that the lease for the building known as The Red House to the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre Incorporated (CJRCI) be revoked and that the occupants vacate the property by December 31, 2016, the Ministry of the Presidency announced.
“Having carefully considered the advice of the Minister of Legal Affairs, President Granger has concluded that it would be in the public’s interest for the lease issued to the CJRCI to be revoked and has also directed the Minister of State that the building be assigned to house “The National Trust of Guyana, its staff, stores and equipment”, currently housed in the Valerie Rodway Building on Carmichael Street, with effect from January 1, 2017, where it would be better able to fulfill its mandate to preserve Guyana’s national patrimony and to promote an appreciation for the nation’s heritage,” the Ministry of the Presidency said.
The Head of State handed down these instructions Thursday in a letter to Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon, more than one year after the Coalition Government had engaged the CJRCI on the matter of the lease. This engagement included negotiations for The Red House to provide a national service by housing information on all of the Presidents of Guyana. Those negotiations proved futile and in an invited comment, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr. Basil Williams said that after discussions broke down, he sought to determine the legality of the lease agreement.
Government said the National Trust would be relocated from a building adjacent to State House on Carmichael Street to Red House after the CJRC vacates the property.
Currently, offices of the Ministry of the Presidency, including its Communication Section, are housed at the National Trust building.
Red House, which was once the official residence of then Premier and People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Founder-Leader, Dr. Cheddi Jagan, houses several of his works and is used by that party for panel discussions and other events.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, December 28, 2016, Minister Williams said his investigations revealed that the lease held by the CJRCI is invalid on several grounds, including that there is no evidence that the President of the day had sanctioned it. On March 30, 2012 The Red House lease agreement was initiated without the approval of either the President of the Day or The National Trust of Guyana, which is in contravention of Section 10 of the Lands Department Act Chapter 59:01, rendering it void. The statement also said that on March 21, 2000, the CJRCI was incorporated as “a not-for-profit company” by late former President Janet Jagan, her daughter Ms. Nadira Jagan-Brancier and former President Donald Ramotar, who was then the General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C), with the aim of establishing a library and research facility to contain the works and documents owned by the late President Cheddi Jagan.
In that same year, the lease agreement among the parties; the Government of Guyana, The National Trust of Guyana and the CJRCI was drawn up but not executed. The Attorney General further said that on May 3, 2006 Mr. Ramotar applied to the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys (CL&S) for a lease of the property, which comprises Lots 65, 66 and 67 High Street, Kingston, Georgetown, on behalf of the CJRCI but although a file had been opened in the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC), approval had not been granted. The application was then resubmitted on August 30, 2010, on a revised schedule, to the then Office of the President. On January 11, 2011, the resubmitted application was also not approved as there is no evidence of any signature of the President of the Day on the purported schedule, only those of Mr. Doorga Persaud, the then CL&S, and the Manager of Land Administration, Mr. Enrique Monize.
However, on March 30, 2012, a lease entered by the CL&S on behalf of the Government of Guyana, and by Mr. Ralph Ramkarran, S.C., on behalf of the CJRCI, was issued under Section 10 of the Lands Department Act, Chapter 59:01 for property with a duration of 99 years, commencing on January 1, 2012 at an annual rental of $12,000 for the first three years, and with the proviso that the Government could revise the annual rent payable at the end of every three years.
In the statement, the Attorney General said that the 99-year lease “was not executed in the manner of a transport, that is advertised and passed before the Court, nor was it filed as of record and annotation made against the Property by the Registrar of Deeds.” The statement further noted that in Section 4 of the State Lands Act Chapter 62:01 said that State Lands can only be converted into Government Lands with the sanction of the President of the Day and on the terms and conditions determined by this office bearer and there is no formal evidence of sanction or approval by the then President.
The Red House is established in The National Trust of Guyana Monuments Register as a Public Building/National Monument/Heritage Site. The Trust was established under The National Trust Act Chapter 20:03 Laws of Guyana, which is an “Act to make provision for the preservation of monuments, sites, places and objects of historic interest or national importance”. Its main responsibility is the preservation of all monuments of Guyana, which under the Act includes “any building, structure or object or other work of man…” The National Trust also “shall not transfer, mortgage, lease, charge or dispose of any land without the approval of the Minister,” according to its webpage.
The Attorney General maintains that all the parties knew that The Red House “at all material times was a heritage site, both building and lands under the National Trust Act Chapter 20:03”. Further, the CL&S is the custodian of all Government Lands…”that is why there must be evidence of the President approving leases under Section 10 of the Lands Department Act Chapter 59:01”.
On August 21, 2015, Minister Harmon, in his Budget presentation, had told the Parliament that the PPP/C had privatised the CJRCI and had been leasing the property for a mere $1,000 per month. The Minister had also noted that while in government, the PPP/C Administration had spent large sums renovating The Red House, a property of the State until 2012, then renamed it CJRCI. Minister Harmon had also said that all the sitting executives of the CJRCI are all connected to the PPP/C party and that discussions between the government and the CJRCI and others on the matter had been futile.