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Former Indigenous Peoples Ministerial Advisor debunks Jagdeo’s claim on subsurface rights

Last Updated on Sunday, 13 February 2022, 16:43 by Denis Chabrol

Mervyn Williams

A former Indigenous Peoples Ministerial Advisor, Mervyn Williams has dismissed claims by Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo that Amerindian people enjoy the rights to minerals.

In an interview with the United States-based Vice News, Mr. Jagdeo had said that the Amerindian Act provides for Amerindians to have subsurface rights. “We are one of the few countries in the world that gave the Amerindian communities on titled lands subsurface rights…so now they have subsurface rights in as part of the legislation that we passed.”

But Mr. Williams, who was advisor to the then Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs, said that such rights had been long advocated for but the State Lands Act was never amended and the Amerindian Act of 2006 does not allow for “this much desired right”

“It cannot be fair to cause Guyana’s international partners to believe that our Indigenous citizens enjoy a right which they do not and have never enjoyed,” said Mr. Williams, a former executive member of the People’s National Congress Reform (PNCR).

He argued that Indigenous Peoples that, the PPP is avoiding a national review of the Amerindian Act because of the strong advocacy for subsurface rights among other things “which the PPP is unwilling to grant.”

Mr. Williams also disputed Vice President Jagdeo’s claim concerning the titling of Amerindian lands, saying that that process had dated back to 1976 and 1991 when the then Amerindian Act of 1951 had been amended to include several villages that had totaled 9,915 square miles or 11.9% of Guyana’s lands.

In  contrast, he claimed that the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) had granted titles to 2,829 square miles of lands to Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples representing 3.4% of Guyana’s lands under the Land Registry Act. “In short, our people were given titles to lands for which they already held legal inalienable titles (Absolute Grants),” he said.