(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) — After more than 40 years, Basdeo Panday has been evicted from his office at the Rienzi Complex, Couva.
The eviction order was served by the All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union (ATGWU), which owns the property.
Panday allegedly owes more than $500,000 in rent. He is disputing this.
The former prime minister and former political leader of the United National Congress intends taking legal action.
The eviction was confirmed on Thursday by President General of the ATGWTU Nirvan Maharaj on Thursday.
According to Maharaj, since 2012, the union has been attempting to renegotiate the lease with Panday,
But Maharaj said Panday ignored and failed to respond any of the letters sent every month requesting the rental arrears and the current rent.
Maharaj said Panday owes for two offices and a storage room.
“Since 2012 to date Mr Panday never responded and I thought he would have appreciated and shown gratitude to the Union for allowing him to stay even while we were trying to get our rent…he has been here since 2012 not paying electricity, not paying water, no air-conditioning, even the toiletries he used that would have been provided by the union,” he said.
Maharaj said Panday has a lease and on February 6 he wrote to Panday indicating that, “certainly the relationship has broken down because the Union has to do what it has to do to survive and like all other Unions we use our assets in order to have an additionally income. Out membership fee is $10 a week and we would have lost 15,000 members.”
Since the 1970s, Panday has occupied the location in a building that became the home and head office of the UNC party.
It also served as Panday’s constituency office. Since Panday demitted active politics, the office is used as the Basdeo Panday Foundation.
The Express was told that Panday does not regularly visit the office and his secretary visits at least three times per week.
Maharaj said the Union is undertaking a new business venture, a supermarket, with a new tenant for rental of part of the property.
No emotion involved, it was a financial decision.
Maharaj said that as president of the All Trinidad General workers Trade Union, he owed it to the membership.
“I have absolutely no apologies for doing that, it was the only thing I could do, because when I sit as President General my job is to seek the interest of the Union. Mr Panday does not own Rienzi Complex, Nirvan Maharaj does not own Rienzi Complex, Rudranath Indarsingh does not own Rienzi Complex, the membership does and it has to be used in such a manner.
I cannot run a Union based on sentiment and emotion. We all come and play our parts and move on…I don’t think Mr Panday has a divine right to own an office in Rienzi Complex. And this is a landlord-tenant matter,” said Maharaj.
He said the first amount was $3,000 a month, and then the assumed renegotiated lease amount was $6,500 a month. And this was up for negotiation, he said.
Maharaj said he did have a conversation with Panday, explaining that the union wanted to utilise the ground floor.
He said Panday told him that no one could put him (Panday) out of Rienzi Complex.
He is my hero
“There was no emotion, no sentiment, no politics. It was a landlord-tenant relationship. I have a financial duty to the Union….At the end of the day, I love and respect Mr Panday with my heart and soul. Mr Panday is my hero, he has always been but at the end of the day I cannot allow love and respect to get in the way of the good of the Union and the undermining of the Union.
“I have no personal animosity against Mr Panday,” he said.
Maharaj said he is fully aware of the consequences of his actions and has also spoken with his lawyer who is on standby for any legal action.
The eviction letter was served to Panday’s secretary on February 6. Maharaj said the two weeks’ notice deadline ended on Wednesday and a lock and chain was placed on the door with a notice.
Maharaj said the Union has extended a courtesy to allow Panday, his secretary of his representation to collect his personal belongings.
The former Prime Minister said he had been at the building since the 1970s when he was President General of the union.
Panday, who said he now conducts a voluntary organisation from Rienzi Complex, said up until Wednesday he had attended to people’s problems. He said however that on Thursday morning his secretary arrived to find the gates to the office locked.
“She couldn’t get in. There are peoples very valuable documents in there and we are valuable equipment in there as well,” Panday said.
He said the matter has been placed in the hands of his lawyer.
Panday admitted that there were letters and calls “for a long time” concerning rent but these calls were ignored. “We are not tenants … There’s no tenancy agreement between us as far as I’m aware. In any case the president (general of the All Trinidad General Workers’ Trade Union) was not there when I built that building and occupied it as trade union leader and then occupied it as a person with a voluntary organization. He was nowhere around.”
Told that the Union said he was owing $500,000 in rent Panday said, “What is happened is that the union has become very money hungry. I’m surprised it’s not a million (dollars).”
He also said that there was no question of negotiation concerning any rent as there was no tenancy.
Asked how he felt about the situation, Panday said, “In life, there are some of us who were born to create and there are others who were born to destroy. You cannot have change unless you have creation and destruction.”