All Trinidad General Workers Trade Union boss Nirvan Maharaj is unapologetic about having to evict former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday from the union’s Rienzi Complex, Couva administrative building.
He said Panday, who once headed the union when it was called All Trinidad Sugar and General Workers Trade Union, has unpaid rental fees totalling some $500,000 since 2012.
However, Panday disputed that claim and instead said Maharaj wanted to combine his (Panday’s) office space with the one previously used by the Opposition UNC for rental purposes. Panday quipped the space may be used as a casino. He said the matter is now in the hands of his attorneys.
In July 2016, the union evicted the Opposition party after it failed to pay the increased rental fees. The rent was raised from $12,000 to $25,000 per month.
In a telephone interview yesterday, Maharaj said the issue was a landlord/ tenant relationship saying the union had attempted to renegotiate its lease arrangement with Panday in 2012 but he refused to meet with them.
“And by refusing to do so, Mr Panday technically became a month-to-month tenant. He then stopped paying rent and since 2012 this union would have written Mr Panday over 70 letters, one per month asking Mr Panday to liquidate his rental arrears and pay his current rent but he neglected, negated, refused and failed to meet with the union president or the general secretary and executive and he just continued staying at Rienzi Complex.”
Maharaj said the issue came to a head on February 6, 2019 when he once again wrote Panday asking him to “liquidate his rental arrears and to give up the premises.”
“Mr Panday is owing the All Trinidad union $500,000. Now I love and respect Mr Panday for his contribution to this country but I have a fiduciary duty to the membership of this union and like all other unions like PSA, SWWTU we have to use our assets to ensure the union’s survival because remember it’s a $10 membership per week, and that alone can’t keep the union surviving after we would have lost over 15,000 members.
“I have absolutely no apologies for taking the action I have taken on behalf of the union. I have to do what I have to do not based on sentiment and emotion but based on pure logic for the survival of the union for another 81 years and beyond.”
Meanwhile, Panday said there was no indication that his foundation, the Basdeo Panday Foundation, would be evicted yesterday as it had operated normally on Wednesday.
“My secretary went to the office this morning, I was there yesterday and the office was open, I attended to people yesterday and when my secretary went this morning, the gates were locked, I couldn’t even get into the office, I couldn’t even get into the compound to get into the office, the gates were locked.”
He said the action had not taken him by surprise him as it had been trying to evict him for some time.
“They sent a letter which I have passed it to my lawyers, they have been claiming rent for a very long time and no rent is due. I think they want to rent out the place for a casino or something so.”
Panday has his own theories why he was evicted saying the union’s offices are in close proximity to his own and union members who had failed to have their concerns addressed would come to him for advice.
Panday said confidential documents were presently locked away in his office and expressed concerns on how he would be able to retrieve them.
However Maharaj said Panday or his secretary could call the union to make arrangements for the retrieval of the documents and other equipment. And asked whether he was concerned about potential fallout from his members, Maharaj said he is “not concerned about any fallout.”
“Fallout or otherwise is of no consequence to me. The National Solidarity Assembly is the political arm of the All Trinidad union. We will contest the electoral politics as we always do. This is simply a landlord/ tenant relationship.”