Government threatens to demolish PNP headquarters
Last week, the Turks and Caicos Islands government served civil proceedings on the Progressive National Party (PNP) seeking the recovery of the land upon which the PNP headquarters building is constructed, together with damages, including an order to pull down and destroy the structure.
The claim arises from the PNP's alleged trespass following its construction of its headquarters on Airport Road, Providenciales, on Crown land to which, the government claims, it had, and has no title.
According to a government press release on Tuesday, after construction of its headquarters in 2005/6, the PNP subsequently appointed a management agent, Provident Management Services Ltd, to manage the property. During the last elected administration prior to the imposition of direct rule by Britain, Provident is said to have sub-leased six offices in the headquarters to PNP MPs for a total of $465,083.61 over approximately three years, which was paid by the government. The government seeks the return of that sum, to which Provident was not entitled together with other damages.
The government said it is seeking a number of remedies for the alleged trespass:
• damages for the PNP's trespass on the land, based on a reasonable annual rent until possession of the land is returned to the Crown;
• the repayment of the $465,083.61;
• an order that the headquarters are pulled down and destroyed;
• damages for returning the land to its former state; and
• interest and costs
(Interim) Attorney General Huw Shepheard commented: "When the current administration first became aware last year that the PNP's headquarters had been built on Crown land to which the PNP had no title, my Chambers wrote to the PNP setting out the claim that the government had. It had been our hope that matters could be settled amicably without the need for proceedings. Unfortunately, discussions with the PNP have not been successful. In those circumstances, the government has been left with no choice but to bring these proceedings for trespass and damages to recover this plot of Crown land and what is properly owed to the government".
Carlos Simons QC, attorney for the PNP, said in response that he does not consider that the government has as yet “served civil proceedings on the Progressive National Party” as the press statement asserts.
“I believe that their method of service does not meet the requirements of TCI procedural law and until the mistake is corrected, the party has no formal notice of the proceedings and does not have to respond. That issue has been brought to the attention of the Attorney General’s Chambers, but might in the end require the attention of the Court,” he said.
Simons went on to say that the trespass claim is entirely misconceived.
“The party has been in open possession of the Airport Road property since at least 2005 with the full knowledge of the leaders of every government department concerned with dealings in Crown land and with their acquiescence, if not consent,” he explained.
Simons also rejected the assertion that Provident Management Services Ltd sub-leased six offices in the headquarters building to PNP MPs, but instead leased the offices to the government, with those leases being signed off on behalf of the government by the head of department having control of the relevant vote.
Furthermore, he said, those leases were identical to leases entered into by the government in Grand Turk, South Caicos and North and Middle Caicos for the constituency offices of Members of Parliament, including constituency offices for PDM [Peoples Democratic Movement] Members of Parliament.
“That assertion is therefore false,” Simons reiterated.
He also said that the PNP has never disputed the government’s right to a reasonable annual rent, nor payment of the market value of the land.
“That is therefore a non-issue,” he said.
As regards the claim for damages for trespass, Simons asserted that any reasonable person would agree that the land has been developed and improved rather than injured.
“I would also be surprised if anyone, regardless of their political allegiance would agree that pulling down and destroying a perfectly good building makes any kind of sense,” he said.
Simons said he had been instructed to invite the attorney general and the governor to return to the negotiation table and make a good faith attempt to reach a reasonable settlement of these issues.
In any case, he said, the PNP is committed to rigorously defending and defeating these spurious claims brought by the interim government, purportedly on behalf of the people.