PPP takes ‘lands-fight’ to Parliament

Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 April 2017, 20:00 by Denis Chabrol

MEMBERS OF THE LANDS COMMISSION OF INQUIRY: From left: Mr. Lennox Caleb, Mr. David James, Ms. Carol Khan-James, President David Granger, Rev. George Chuck-A-Sang, Ms. Belinda Persaud and Professor Rudolph James after the swearing-in ceremony

The opposition Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) has taken its ‘lands-fight’ to the National Assembly with a motion looking to have the House call on the David Granger administration to immediately revoke the recently appointed Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to look into Amerindian and African lands issues in Guyana.

According to the Terms of the CoI, it is meant to “to examine and make recommendations to resolve all issues and uncertainties surrounding the claims of Amerindian land titling, the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans and on any matters relating to land titling in Guyana.”

The PPP however, says it believes the CoI ordered by Head of State President David Granger, is in fact a recipe for further polarization of “our people along ethnic lines, creating major fissures amongst our people with regards to complex and controversial land issues, while grossly violating long-held commitments of successive governments to Amerindian land rights in Guyana.”

Filed on Tuesday (April 25, 2017), the opposition PPP motion is being moved by former Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai, and has been seconded by former Permanent Secretary under Sukhai, Nigel Dharamlall.
Sukhai, in the PPP’s motion, calls on President Granger to immediately revoke the establishment of the COI, “in the best interests of national unity” and cites a number of reasons including a lack of consultations with the National Toshaos Council (NTC)—the elected representative body for Indigenous Amerindian Peoples.

According to Sukhai in her motion calling for a parliamentary intervention, the COI—established by Granger—flies in the face of “free prior and informed consent’ consultations with the NTC”

Sukhai in her motion seeks to point to the fact the Terms of Reference—guiding the working of the Commissioners—were published in the Official Gazette after the Commissioners were sworn in.

The opposition PPP-Civic’s parliamentary spokespersons on Amerindian Affairs: Nigel Dharamlall, Pauline Sukhai and Yvonne Pearson at the opening of the 2016 National Toshaos Council Conference at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre.

This, she claims, effectively denied the NTC, Amerindian communities and Amerindian non-governmental organizations, “of the right to be informed and consulted as to the rationale for and the objectives of this CoI.”
The PPP’s motion comes after weeks of public and repeated lamentations and claims of a lack of consultation with stakeholders on the part of government by the PPP.

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo only recently led a PPP delegation to sections of the Hinterland including Regions One and Nine and on returning to the coast reported what he said were widespread concerns over the unilateral establishment of the CoI by Granger.

The former Minister under the PPP government argues in her motion that the establishment of the CoI, “not only violates pre-and post-independence commitments but also puts Guyana on a collision course with its international rights obligations.”

African Lands
On the matter of lands related to freed, African slaves, the former Amerindian Affairs Minister is adamant, “the President can establish a new and separate Commission of Inquiry to enquire into issues touching on and concerning the ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans and all matters in connection therewith.”

As it relates to Amerindian Lands, Sukhai insists, Guyana has already established under the Amerindian Act of 2006, a unique, comprehensive and robust legal framework which addresses Amerindian land rights and Amerindian communal land titling ‘forever and absolute’ with ‘Free Prior and Informed Consent’ of the Amerindian communities, in accordance with the Constitution of Guyana, statutes and international law.

According to Sukhai, under the Amerindian Act of 2006, almost 100 Amerindian communities have been able to acquire communal titles representing over 14 per cent of Guyana’s land mass, which “speaks to the success of this legal framework.”

As it relates to the CoI established by President Granger, the former Amerindian Affairs Minister argues in the PPP’s motion, “the expansive mandate of the Commission could undermine the legitimacy of Amerindian land rights and lead to the dispossession of Amerindian land titles and future land titling.”

This conclusion is being fuelled by public statements emanating from several high-ranking government officials regarding Amerindian lands, according to Sukhai.

In calling for a public debate on the matter, Sukhai points to the National Toshaos Council’s public concerns and declarations that they, “cannot with any degree of sanity or confidence, respect such a body (CoI), and will refuse to cooperate with such a body.”

The commission is chaired by Reverend George Chuck-a-Sang. Other commissioners are: David James, Carol Khan-James, Professor Rudolph James, Lennox Caleb, Berlinda Persaud and Paulette Henry.

President Granger at the time of swearing in the commissioners had said the CoI is meant to settle all controversies originating from disagreement over ownership of land so as to satisfy all of the citizens of this country, “that we need not fight each other for land; that we will investigate their claims and we will respond to their just demands.”

That CoI has since been met with staunch opposition particularly by the political PPP opposition and the National Toshaos Council.