Former government minister and Chaguanas West MP Jack Warner has testified on behalf of street vendors from Chaguanas, who are challenging a proposal to evict them from a temporary location which they have been occupying for almost eight years.
Warner took the witness stand before Justice Kevin Ramcharan, at the Hall of Justice, in Port-of-Spain as the vendors’ lawsuit against the Chaguanas Borough Corporation began yesterday.
Under cross-examined from the corporation’s attorney Kelvin Ramkissoon, Warner repeatedly claimed that he gave the vendors the assurance that they would use the property, located on the site of the old Chaguanas Health Facility, until a permanent facility is constructed there.
Asked whether he had the authority to make the decision, as back then he held the portfolio of Works and Transport Minister, Warner said yes.
“I had the authority. I did not make it singularly,” Warner said, but he admitted he could not produce a Cabinet Note to support his claim.
Warner noted there was an application before the Town and Country Division for approval to construct the proposed facility.
Questioned by Ramkissoon as to whether he was aware that the application before the Town and Country Division was not made by the corporation, Warner said it was made by a private company which had volunteered its services to the Government.
Ramkissoon referred to a Cabinet Note dated May 2014, which stated that the vendors had to be relocated to the old Globe cinema compound in Chaguanas. It also stated that the temporary site was going to be converted to a public park, as part of the borough’s development drive to become a city.
Warner could not comment on that document as it was made after he resigned as a government minister in 2013.
Also testifying during yesterday’s hearing was Anne Billinghurst, one of the three vendors who filed the lawsuit along with the Chaguanas Vendors’ Association.
Billinghurst claimed that Warner and former Chaguanas mayor Orlando Nagessar had given them assurances to occupy the site.
She also claimed that she and fellow vendors spent various sums of money to develop their individual stalls.
Asked about a clause in their agreement which prohibited such development, Billinghurst maintained that it was permitted.
Billinghurst later admitted the local government ministry held consultations with them before issuing eviction notices in January 2015.
In the lawsuit, the vendors are contending that they had a legitimate expectation from the oral assurances they received from Warner and Nagessar.
Shortly after the claim was filed in 2015, the vendors obtained an injunction from the High Court preventing their evictions until the outcome of the case.
Attorneys representing the vendors and the corporation are expected to present oral submissions in the case today.
Nagessar and current Chaguanas Mayor Gopaul Boodan were present in court for the hearing but did not participate in the trial.
The corporation is also being represented by Sonia Gyan.
Reporter: Derek Achong