THE Permanent Secretary (PS) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries cannot force the Agricultural Society to vacate a building at Serpentine Road, St Clair, until a structural engineering report is submitted to the court by Tuesday of next week.
The society is resisting a decision by the ministry’s PS to relocate it to new offices either at Abercromby Street, Port of Spain – previously occupied by the Livestock and Livestock Products Board – or in El Socorro.
The society’s judicial review application came up for hearing before Justice Frank Seepersad in the Port of Spain High Court on Monday, when he ordered that the PS should take no further action on the planned relocation.
He has adjourned the matter to next week Wednesday, and the PS is to file in court the structural engineering report which purportedly contends that the building at Serpentine Road is structurally unsound.
State attorney Josephina Baptiste-Mohammed, who represented the PS, said on examination of the building, cracks were discovered which made it unsafe for occupation. She said the PS had been given an oral report based on an initial inspection of the building, and sought additional time to have the report prepared to be submitted as evidence in the case. Objecting to this was the society’s attorney Larry Lalla, who said his client was ordered off the premises in January, with no reason given and it was only now that they were hearing of issues relating to the structural integrity of the building.
The society is seeking full access to the building, and has argued that the forced relocation will prevent it from carrying out its mandate to advocate for farmers.
It occupied the building in St Clair from 2014 to 2017. In August 2017, when the ministry relocated to Chaguanas, the society said the building in St Clair was locked and it cannot gain access.
In ordering the PS not to force the relocation, Seepersad said this country has been inundated with the position that buildings are structurally unsound.
“The Biche High School was said to be structurally unsound and is still standing...The Brian Lara Stadium was deemed structurally unsound and stood for five years and is now fully functional.”
He said it was unacceptable that the ministry’s position on the condition of the building was not previously communicated to the society.
“We are dealing with the lives and security of persons who occupy the building. The information (the structural engineering report) has to be so significant that they are not prepared for anyone to occupy the building.”
He also told the society to proceed with caution if any of its members were in the building at Serpentine Road.