…says matter ‘not urgent’
The Opposition Peoples Progressive Party’s (PPP’s) motion calling for the revocation of the appointment of the Lands Commission of Inquiry (COI) was shut down by the Speaker of the House, Dr Barton Scotland during Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly as he deemed it ‘not urgent.’
The motion which was read by Scotland today and signed by Opposition Members of Parliament, Anil Nandlall and Pauline Sukhai identified the issue as one of “national public importance.”
Among other things that motion said “this National Assembly calls upon His Excellency, President David Granger to revoke the establishment of the aforementioned Commission of Inquiry, forthwith. Be it resolved that this National Assembly calls upon His Excellency, President David Granger to hold consultations with all the relevant stakeholders in order to determine a course of action that would accelerate the issuance of title to Amerindians for traditional lands and address all matters in relation thereto and in connection therewith.”
As a consequence of deeming the motion “not urgent,” the Speaker disallowed Nandlall from presenting it in the National Assembly.
When the former Attorney General questioned the reason for this, and articulated his presumption that he was being barred from speaking in the house, the Speaker’s lone response was “if that is so, then so be it.”
The PPP Members of Parliament (PM’s) then stood up in protest against the Speaker’s decision, but he refused to change his stance.
Leader of the Opposition, Dr Bharat Jagdeo, Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira, MP, Irfaan Ali and a few others were noticeably absent as they were granted leave from Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly.
On March 10, 2017, President David Granger established a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to examine and make recommendations to resolve issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by free Africans , along with Amerindian land titling issues.
However, The National Toshaos Council (NTC) – a body comprising of all Toshaos of Guyana rejected Government’s decision to establish a Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into land rights, on the grounds of lack of consultation and that the two issues (lands acquired by free Africans, along with Amerindian land titling issues) are unique and need to be addressed separately.
“While we support reparations and repatriation of African Lands and addressing that issue with a great degree of urgency, the Indigenous Lands issue cannot and should not be viewed in the same light, nor can it be addressed under the same framework,” the Council emphasised.
The NTC called for the establishment of two separate entities to deal with the two different issues as it voiced its refusal to cooperate with the current lands CoI.
“We call on His Excellency for a complete repeal of the mandate of this Commission and to establish the Indigenous Peoples’ Lands Commission,” the NTC said.
The organisation noted that failure to do so would demonstrate that Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples are being marginalised by the Government of Guyana.
The Amerindian leaders reminded that it was the Head of State who made the promise, during the NTC Conference of 2015, to establish a “Hinterland and Indigenous Peoples Lands Commission” that will address all Indigenous land issues.
The NTC also highlighted that in the Amerindian Act of 2006, as a matter of law, there exists a process that speaks to the issue of Amerindian Lands.
The PPP subsequently expressed its support towards the NTC’s call for the scrapping of the Commission of Inquiry and said further that it would have advanced their concerns in the National Assembly following a meeting by the Leader of the Opposition that saw hundreds of Amerindians turning up to register their concerns.
The Party had said that the 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 said it 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.
According to the Party, Amerindian land titling 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” said the PPP.
Moreover the PPP outlined that “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.”