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Guyana’s land issues cannot be discussed separately- Vincent Alexander

Vincent Alexander.

Former executive member of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR), Vincent Alexander disagrees that there should be a separate commission to examine the issue of Amerindian land rights and supports the move to have their and African land rights be dealt with by one commission.

“We have to have a holistic and integrated approach to the resolution of sectoral or communal problems. I don’t think the nation could have a discussion about Amerindian land outside a discussion about lands period,” he said at a Carter Centre/ British High Commissioner-organised forum on constitutional reform held at the University of Guyana (UG) last week.

His comments were made against the background of the National Toshaos Council (NTC) rejecting the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into land rights and refusing to cooperate with that probe team. Instead, the NTC has demanded that President David Granger honour his promise that he made in 2015 that a “Hinterland and Indigenous People Lands Commission” would be set up.

The Commission of Inquiry has been set up to examine all issues and uncertainties surrounding the claims of Amerindian land titling, the individual, joint and communal ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans and any other matters relative to land titling would be for public welfare.

The opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has since endorsed the NTC’s call, but Alexander  said it would be  better to have one land rights commission address the many concerns. “It has to be an integrated discussion about lands so you’ve got to come to the table with our case but understanding that there can be no separating out because we are talking about one country and if we are talking about one country, we have to have consensus among ourselves about the issues rather than separating out the issue as if we one group is different from other groups,” said Alexander, currently an Elections Commissioner.

Alexander argued that concerns about land rights affect hinterland residents and coastlanders. “We have our own problems but every group’s problem is somebody else’s problem. Amerindian problem is the coastlander problem for who wants to go and mine so we have to have a discussion that is integrated and not separated,” he said.

For its part, the PPP endorsed the NTC’s position because  that body that has been established by law and the constitution has never been consulted. “Regrettably, the President and his government’s action in this instance is not isolated; this has become the modus operandi of the government with consistent undermining of elected and statutory bodies, and, constitutional and statutory provisions with no consultation.

The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Headquaters- Freedom House.

Noting that the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry were only published on March 11, 2017, one day after six of the seven commissioners were sworn in points to government’s intention not to consult with the NTC and any other Amerindian rights-based organisation. “Thus, the government surreptitiously denied the National Toshaos Council, Amerindian communities and Amerindian non-governmental organizations, of the right to be informed and consulted as to the objectives of this Commission of Inquiry,” the PPP said.

Granger has already stated that the appointment of Attorney-at-Law, David James as a commissioner indicates that the Amerindian People’s Association (APA) was consulted.

The PPP echoed the NTC’s fear that the commission would eventually lead to land being taken away from Amerindians. “This Commission’s expansive mandate is dangerous and will undermine the legitimacy of Amerindian land rights and lead to the dispossession of Amerindian land titles and future land titling.”

The party says the Amerindian Act of 2006  provides a robust framework and clearly defined process for Amerindian land titling which is supported by the Constitution and international law. “The fact that under this statute, almost 100 Amerindian communities have been able to acquire communal titles “absolute and forever”, representing over 14% of Guyana’s land mass, speaks to the success of this legal framework.”