The Progressive National Party (PNP) headquarters in Providenciales
According to Premier Dr Rufus Ewing, his Progressive National Party (PNP) is to regain possession of its headquarters building in Providenciales, which it lost in a legal battle with the government in 2013.
The TCI Supreme Court ruled in the Crown’s favour in July 2013, giving judgment to the government against the PNP in relation to an application by the attorney general to recover the land on which the party’s headquarters building was constructed.
The court, dismissing the PNP’s argument that it was entitled to the parcel of land in Providenciales on which its headquarters stands, held that “The only possible conclusion is that the beneficial and legal interest in the land was always and remains in the Crown”.
Judge Ramsey Hale, giving the court’s judgment, rejected the evidence of Floyd Hall, former deputy leader of the PNP and deputy premier of the PNP government in 2006/7. Hall was the primary witness in support of the PNP’s defence to the TCI government’s claim for the land. Hall gave evidence that he mistakenly believed that the PNP had a lease of the land. The judge rejected Hall’s evidence.
Ramsey Hale said:
“…it is impossible to accept that Mr Hall, an experienced accountant and a leader of the party, and the man responsible for preparing the party’s accounts, was unaware that no rent had been paid in respect of the land. He would have known from the fact that no rent had been paid that no conditional purchase lease (CPL) had been granted. His evidence that he believed, because planning permission had been granted, that the PNP had a lease… frankly strains the credulity of this Court and I reject it.”
The judge went on to conclude: “…in my judgment, the only inference to be drawn from the evidence is that Mr Hall and the PNP knew that no lease had been agreed, executed or granted by the Governor and that it had no title to the land.”
In other findings in the case, the judge also determined that the PNP, as an unincorporated association, has no legal personality and cannot sue or be sued. She therefore determined that the claims for damages could not be pursued against the PNP as a body.
However, Ewing’s announcement last week, interrupting two television broadcasts, that the PNP is to regain possession of its headquarters has raised even more questions, since the impression was given that the building had been given back to the party free of cost.
The current Crown land policy prohibits the outright transfer of land unless the property is first put out to auction. No auction took place with the PNP headquarters. The other option under the Crown land rules is for a lease to be granted for the premises.
Questions being raised include:
1. What is the nature and extent of the financial arrangement between the PNP and the TCI government in order to facilitate the claimed “repossession”?
2. Has the PNP since been incorporated or otherwise established as a legal entity in order to take possession and control of the property? If not, which entity or individuals will take such possession or control?
3. Where is the money coming from to pay for the “repossession” given that the TCI has some of the strictest political financing laws in the region?
This is not the first time a former PNP administration built structures without first obtaining legal title to the property. Two other infamous cases involved the National Stadium that was built for some $14 million on land owned by a local school, British Collegiate, and the other case involved a port facility in North Caicos. The PNP government was forced to pay some $1.4 million to acquire the land from owners in North Caicos and the fate of the $14 million stadium is still being negotiated.
These three land deals have been kept secret from the public and PNP ministers have avoided discussion them in the media or House of Assembly.
In the meantime, a snap party convention has been called for this weekend, when Ewing will try to retain his position as PNP leader.