By  January 1, 2017

On December 29 the Attorney General’s Chambers issued a statement asserting that the lease that had been granted to the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre (CJRC) in connection with the property in Kingston, Georgetown, known as ‘Red House,’ was invalid. Extensive reasons were given as the basis for that conclusion. On the following day a statement by Mr Anil Nandlall, a prominent and well-respected lawyer and former Attorney General, was published. It was an equally extensive statement with a detailed legal analysis challenging the conclusions of the statement of the Attorney General’s Chambers.

In the meantime, on the evening of December 29, a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency informed the public that the President had revoked the lease on the basis of the advice given by the Attorney General’s Chambers and had given the CJRC 48 hours to vacate the premises. The CJRC had occupied the premises for about fifteen years and had accumulated a vast amount of material. Even trespassers are given longer periods to vacate premises by courts. In law, the period given must be reasonable. 48 hours could not be reasonable under any circumstances.

On the morning of December 30 the CJRC filed constitutional proceedings in court challenging the revocation of the lease on the ground, inter alia, that the lease was property as defined by the Constitution and that the revocation constituted a deprivation of property without compensation, contrary to the Constitution. The Chief Justice ordered that the proceedings be served on the Attorney General and fixed the matter for hearing as to the preliminary issue of a conservatory order, applied for by the CJRC, for 3 pm. The objective of a conservatory order is to preserve the status quo until the hearing and determination of the matter. The Chief Justice eventually granted an order preserving the property of the CJRC in the building. In other words, neither the Attorney General, nor his agents or anyone else, except CJRC, will be allowed to interfere with the property of CJRC.

In an interview reported in the media after the hearing on December 30, which up to the time of writing at midday of December 31, has not been refuted by the Attorney General’s Chambers, Mr Anil Nandlall reported that the Attorney General informed the court that the lease had been revoked several days before and that possession of Red House had been acquired by the government also several days ago. If what Mr Nandlall reported was accurate, the status quo that the Attorney General would have been advancing was that the government was in possession of the Red House. He would have been urging the court to preserve the status quo of government’s possession of Red House. I know of my own knowledge that the claim that government was in possession of Red House was palpably false. I spoke to staff of the CJRC by telephone  at about 4 pm and they were in the Red House carrying out their normal activities.

It could be, because of the uncanny connection, that in order to create conditions on the ground, as reported by the Attorney General in court, that the premises were invaded by persons wearing shirts with the insignias ‘MOTP,’ assumed to be ‘Ministry of the Presidency.’ They changed the padlock on the gate, tore down the ‘Cheddi Jagan Research Centre’ sign, prevented entry into and exit from the building and ordered that nothing was to leave the building. The police eventually intervened and after a while the men departed. The padlock was removed and the sign restored.

The Guyana Chronicle, in a blatantly false and misleading headline yesterday stated, ‘Red House back with gov’t – court did not grant order to prevent eviction.’

Guyana is a law based society and is governed by the rule of law. If the government is aggrieved by the possession of Red House by the CJRC, it is the height of lawlessness for it to send its staffers to eject the occupants and seize possession. The same APNU+AFC, even the PNC and PNCR before it, popularized the phrase ‘executive lawlessness.’ The attempt to eject the occupants of Red House is a straight case of the height of executive lawlessness. No government official has the power to dictate the expulsion of occupants of state or any other property. If the government requires possession, it must obtain an order of the court. That is the rule of law. It applies to the President, the government and the citizen.

The attempted unlawful seizure of Red House, unlawful restriction of the movement of the occupants and the unlawful sequestration of its property, bring 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. Let us hope that this event is not a portent of what will happen in 2017.