The People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has thrown its support behind the National Toshaos Council, which remains opposed to Government establishing a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into matters related to land and titling.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon had announced that the CoI would seek to resolve all the issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by free Africans and Amerindian land titling claims.
According to the Party, the President’s “unilateral” decision was taken without consultations with the NTC. It noted that the NTC is the sole legitimate representative of the Amerindian people and communities of Guyana and is recognised in the Constitution.
See the Party’s full statement below:
The People’s Progressive Party wishes to publicly express its unequivocal support for the National Toshaos Council’s (NTC) public condemnation on March 28th, 2017 of the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry “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 PPP also supports the NTC’s statement calling on the President to repeal his decision to hold such an inquiry. The NTC statement followed a similar statement by the four Amerindian non-governmental organizations which was published on March 11th, 2017. Thus, the major bodies that represent the Amerindian people and communities of this country categorically and jointly made their opposition to the Commission of Inquiry known.
This unilateral decision by the President is devoid of any consultation with the sole legitimate representatives of the Amerindian people and communities of Guyana, the National Toshaos Council, which is recognized both in the Constitution and in statute.
The President ‘s statement that the decision was announced at the NTC Conference last year exposes the government’s lack of understanding or their total disregard for “ Free Prior and Informed Consent”.
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 fact that the terms of reference of the Commission of Inquiry were only published in the Official Gazette on March 11th , 2017, the day after six (6) of the seven (7) members of the Commission of Inquiry were sworn is instructive.
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.
Just as noteworthy is that the President and the government denied every other Guyanese of being so informed as to the sweeping scope of this Commission which includes “any other matters relative to land titling in Guyana”.
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 PPP supports the NTC’s position that if the government wants to “address individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans” this should be addressed separately from Amerindian land titling.
The latter has been adequately addressed in the Amerindian Act of 2006 which 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.
The fact that Guyana is the only country in this hemisphere that has issued such titles of communal land ownership to its Amerindian peoples is a living testimony to the consultative and participatory process which led to the Amerindian Act becoming a reality.
The membership of the Commission of Inquiry is also instructive; it is devoid of the legitimate representation of the NTC and devoid of expertise to address such complex, profound and controversial constitutional, legal, historical and cartographical matters.
The PPP joins with the NTC in stating that it “cannot, with any degree of sanity nor confidence, respect such a body, and will refuse to cooperate with such a body”.