–Johnson defends Gov’t move on Red House
THE National Trust Act has been completely ignored by critics, who have taken umbrage over Government’s decision to revoke the Red House lease, the country’s Cultural Policy Advisor Ruel Johnson said in his quest to defend the decision. In a direct response to statements issued by Ralph Ramkarran, former Speaker of the National Assembly; Anil Nandlall, former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister; and Donald Ramotar, a former President of Guyana, Johnson said the leasing of Red House to the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre Inc. (CJRCI) was invalid on several grounds, as he pointed to the laws governing national monuments and heritage sites.
According to Section 15 of the National Trust Act, once publicised, gazzetted and declared a national monument, that monument, without further assurance, becomes the property of, and vests in, the National Trust.
Additionally, the Act states that approval for transfer, mortgage or lease must come from a Minister of Government.
“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,” Johnson explained.
However, the controversial agreement, which paved the way for the Red House to be leased for a duration of 99 years at a cost of only $1000 monthly, was signed by the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys on behalf of the Government, and Ramkarran on behalf of the Research Centre on March 30, 2012.
The agreement was also in contradiction of the Lands Department Act, Chapter 59:01, which states that “Government Lands shall only be rented or sold with the sanction of the President and on the terms and conditions determined by him.”
Nandlall, in response to this argument, said the contention that the lease was invalid because the President did not sanction it, is manifestly wrong. “Any person who has but a mere fleeting familiarity with the State Lands Act and the Regulations made thereunder, as well as the Land Department Act, the MMA/DA Act and similar type legislation, would know that although the power to lease, sell or grant licences in relation to lands which fall under these legislation [sic], resides with the President. The legislation provides for the President to delegate such authority to the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys, the Commissioner of Forestry or the Commissioner of Geology and Mines or the Manager of the MMA/DA, as the case may be, depending on the nature of the land and the purpose for which it is to be used.”
But the Cultural Policy Advisor rubbished Nandlall’s argument, noting that the significance of the building in question ought not to be ignored.
“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 transferal of a national monument under its ownership to a private corporation,” Johnson said.
According to him, the lease would have been validated if the gazzetted national monument (Red House) was deliberately taken off the lists as a national monument and out of the protection of the National Trust Act prior to the agreement.
“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,” the Government advisor added.
Like other Government officials and pro-government supporters, he believes that the transaction was a fraudulent one and resulted in years of misappropriation of a State asset.
Ramkarran had said, however, that the President’s decision to revoke Red House is “unlawful” and had brought back “sad memories of times past when the rule of law in Guyana was being severely undermined as a result of political oppression and authoritarian rule.”
In an effort to bar Government from repossessing Red House, the Cheddi Jagan Resource Centre had moved to the High Court; however, the court did not grant the Conservatory Order which was sought by Chairman of the Management Committee of the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre Incorporated (CJRCI), Hydar Ally.
However, Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards accepted an undertaking that nothing would be done to the documents and research materials related to Dr. Cheddi Jagan until the hearing and determination of this action set for February 20.