The British-appointed Interim Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands has filed documents in the High Court here, seeking to “pull down and destroy” the headquarters of the Progressive National Party (PNP) in addition to the repayment of nearly half-million dollars which the state says the party owes for illegally constructing the building on Crown land.
The announcement of the demolition of the PNP headquarters was contained in a Government press release which was issued Tuesday March 20th, a day after the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT) said it had secured an international arrest warrant through INTERPOL for former Premier and ex-PNP leader Michael Misick, who has since revealed that he has sought political asylum in an undisclosed country because of “political persecution” by the United Kingdom, Governor Ric Todd, the Interim Government and British Special Prosecutor Helen Garlick and her investigators.
The Government release stated that on March 13th 2012, the Turks & Caicos Islands Government served civil proceedings on the Progressive National Party seeking the recovery of the land upon which the PNP Headquarters is constructed, together with damages. The claim arises from the PNP’s trespass following its construction of the PNP headquarters on Airport Road, Providenciales on Crown land to which it had, and has no title, the government said.
According to the press statement, after construction of its headquarters in 2005 to 2006, the PNP subsequently appointed a management agent, Provident Management Services Ltd to manage the property.
The Interim Government is claiming that during the last administration, Provident sub-leased six offices in the headquarters to the six PNP MPs who were based on Providenciales for a total of $465,083.61 over approximately three years, which was paid by the Government at that time. The SUN was able to confirm that the six PNPs who were based on Providenciales took a decision that was approved by Cabinet and the then Governor, that they would pay the allowances to which they were legally entitled for rental of constituency offices to assist in paying the mortgage for the PNP headquarters which was a centralised location, instead of paying the money for rent elsewhere.
However, the Interim Government is seeking the return of that sum, to which they claim Provident was not entitled together with other damages.
According to the press release, Government is also seeking a number of remedies for the trespass, including: 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
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”.
The Statement of Claim, which was filed in the High Court on January 13, 2012, stated that on 30 November 2004, Leroy Charles, the Director of Lands and Surveys prepared a memorandum that concluded that a previous lease over the land, held by Mr. DeOwen Higgs, had expired on 28 November 2004 and that Mr Higgs had failed to construct any development and was no longer in occupation of the land.
Mr Charles advised that the land comprised 0.75 of an acre and had an open market valuation of $50,000. It could be leased to the PNP at $1250 per annum and would incur a discounted freehold purchase price of $25,000.
Mr Charles concluded that the land could be leased to the Defendant for the construction of its headquarters once the lease to Mr. Higgs was cancelled.
On 22 March 2006, Williams Drafting , on behalf of the Defendant, applied for Development Permission over the l and. According to the AG’s court papers, at Part 3(i) of the application, the PNP mis-represented that it was the owner of the land. The application was approved by the Physical Planning Board on 23 March 2006 on the basis of this misrepresentation, an on or about 23 March 2006, the PNP wrongly entered the land and as an act of trespass commenced construction of the headquarters.
On 9 June 2006, the Department of Planning received an application for temporary electrical connection during the construction of the Headquarters on the land and on July1, 2007, the PNP agreed six Commercial Leases for the rent of constituency office space in the headquarters, Each lease was agreed for the term of 1 July 2007 until 1 July 2010 at rent of $2,350 per month (totaling$28,200 per annum for each lease) as well as a security deposit of $2,000 to be paid by TCIG under each lease.
Ruth Blackman, Clerk of the House of Assembly, executed the leases for TCIG on behalf of the following
Members of Parliament: Hon. Karen Delancey, MP for the Bight; Hon. Wayne Garland, MP for Richmond Hills; Hon. Gregory Lightboume, MP for Blue Hills; Hon. Amanda Misick, MP for Cheshire Hall; Hon. Lillian Boyce, MP for Five Cays and Hon, Galmo Williams, MP for Long Bay.
The PNP was the Government of the Turks and Caicos Islands from 2003 to August 2009, when the United Kingdom imposed direct rule, suspended parts of the Constitution including ministerial posts, the House of Assembly and the automatic right to trial by jury.In a press release issued Tuesday evening, Queen’s Counsel Carlos Simons, the lawyer for the PNP, said the party is “committed to rigorously defending and defeating these spurious claims brought by the Interim Government, purportedly on behalf of the people”.
Simons stated: “I do not consider that TCIG has as yet “served civil proceedings on the Progressive National Party” as the 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.”
The Queen’s Counsel said he believes that the trespass claim is “entirely misconceived”, because 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.
This, he said, includes the then Governor, Richard Tauwhare who throughout remained the ultimate authority for the management and disposition of crown lands.
Simons added: “This is the same Governor of whom and from whom the people of the TCI have heard nothing since his departure and in respect of whose role in the matters now under investigation no one in the FCO has seen fit to explain. That is disrespectful. Provident Management Services Ltd did not sub-lease six offices in the Headquarters building to PNP MPs. Provident leased the offices to TCIG. Those leases were signed off on behalf of TCIG by the Head of Department having control of the relevant vote. Furthermore those leases were identical to leases entered into by TCIG in Grand Turk, South Caicos and North and Middle Caicos for the constituency offices of Members of Parliament, including constituency offices for PDM Members of Parliament. That assertion is therefore false.”
Simons said the PNP has never disputed TCIG’s right to a reasonable annual rent, nor payment of the market value of the land.
“That is therefore a non-issue, the litigation of which can only be justified in the context of the gravy train that the SIPT and Civil Recovery teams now ride on the backs of the TCI people,” Simons added.
“As for damages for trespass, I believe 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 (even if TCIG were to win its case) that pulling down and destroying a perfectly good building makes any kind of sense. The settlement discussions to which the AG refers were not successful because they were not undertaken in good faith by him and his clients, the Governor and the FCO. They are hell-bent on issuing this final embarrassment to the PNP as an institution. The Party is hell-bent on ensuring its survival as a pillar of the parliamentary democracy that our constitutions since 1976 have provided for, and to ensure that the Party is a force for good in the affairs of our country.”
Simons concluded by saying: “I am specifically instructed to call upon the AG, the Governor and the FCO to withdraw these unnecessary proceedings, the consequence of which will only enrich the Civil Recovery team lawyers at the expense of the TCI taxpayer. In keeping with my instructions I invite the AG and the Governor to return to the negotiation table and make a good faith attempt to reach a reasonable settlement of these issues and thereby save some of the $33 million they have committed the TCI people to paying their lawyers over the next several years.”
Published March 20th at 4:53 pm in SUN,Leading newspaper in Turks and Caicos Islands