There were rumours circulating that the Jamaat al Muslimeen extorted “rent” from dozens of vendors in the former People’s Mall in Port-of-Spain in the late 1980s, retired commissioner of valuations (CoV), Kenneth Subran has disclosed. Subran, a witness in the Commission of Enquiry into the 1990 insurrection by Jamaat al Muslimeen members, made the disclosure as he gave evidence yesterday. “In the late eighties an officer in the Valuation Division informed me that the Jamaat was collecting monies from tenants at the People’s Mall. “When I investigated the rumour, I found that the government was not collecting any rent from the tenants. Nobody was paying property taxes.” Subran further disclosed that there were also rumours that the Jamaat was extorting money from a lot of other people, including squatters.
In his submission, he attempted to give a bureaucratic history of how the Jamaat’s lands at Mucurapo Road came to be occupied and how various governments dealt with the group’s occupation of it. He referred to a document titled “Status of Tenure of Lands at #1 Mucurapo Road.” On January 12, 1968, the permanent secretary in the ministry of local government and social welfare suggested to the Islamic Missionaries Guild that it locate a site not exceeding one acre. He said the government was favourably inclined to the guild’s application for a parcel of State land to establish an Islamic centre. On January 23, 1969, the permanent secretary, via letter, advised the guild that the government was willing to offer it a site at Mucurapo, Subran recalled. The letter also served as the authority for the guild to enter the land and carry out construction work for the centre, he added. This was before the City Corporation agreed to the proposals made on January 30, 1969, Subran said.
He said that was totally unbelievable since it appeared to dispense with the need for approval from the Director of Surveys and Town & Country Planning Division to comply with the city’s by-laws. “This indicated a total absence of the elements of acceptable governance and it is no wonder the occupiers considered themselves above the law,” he said. He said on October 22, 1969, the City gave the guild permission to commence work on the Mucurapo lands but files on the matter are silent as to planning permission. Later that same month, the Sub-Intendant of State Lands recommended to his permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture that the lease granted to the guild be rescinded. “I am at a loss to understand how you can rescind having considered something.
“It may be that each authority was unaware of the actions of the other,” Subran said. He said no further consideration was given to a lease for the guild but members proceeded to fill the land. They were advised by the Port-of-Spain Corporation in November 1977 that they were to proceed with no further construction work on the site. “Despite this warning, several permanent and unauthorised structures continued to be erected on the site,” Subran said. The Jamaat came into the picture in 1979 but under a different leader. Led then by Hakin Sabur, it became affiliated with the guild and, in 1982, merged with two other Muslim groups, the Al Mahaurideen Bilaal Abdullah and the Dar-ul-Islam, led by Abdul Haqq.
It was later that Imam Yasin Abu Bakr would be installed as leader of the Jamaat, Subran submitted. The Islamic centre at Mucurapo, containing a library, workshop, bookstore, school and sporting facilities was opened in 1984. The guild applied for another site but excavation work at Mucurapo continued, he said. The City Clerk noted that it did not appear that a formal application was made by the Jamaat for a lease, Subran said. The Jamaat was told to discontinue excavation work pending settlement of the lease issue but they instead proceeded to construct permanent buildings on the land. The Port-of-Spain City Corporation served Bakr a contravention notice to discontinue unauthorised works and he resisted and was jailed for contempt of court, Subran said. In 1990, another writ was served and the then commissioner of police occupied an unfinished building on the Jamaat’s compound. The enquiry resumes on Monday.