Debate on Motion on Land COI to be continued on June 15 & 16

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The Commission of Inquiry (COI) to look into land issues surrounding Indigenous lands and those belonging to freed African slaves, will not undermine the rights of indigenous peoples, or put Guyana on a collision course with any international agreements, Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Sydney Allicock has assured.

Minister Allicock reminded that several land titles issued under the former Administration were deemed fake after investigations.

The Minister was speaking during the debate on a Motion brought to the National Assembly by Parliamentary Opposition Member, Pauline Sukhai to discuss the COI into Indigenous and ancestral lands.

MP Sukhai indicated her dissatisfaction that there was no real consultation with the National Toshaos Council (NTC) and described the current COI as being “ill-advised”. She added that she was a little bit worried that at the level of the executive they appeared to be uninformed about the issues being raised. She said the Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs also appeared to be uninformed and unable to do his job.

Sukhai described the Amerindian Act of 2006 as a product of widespread consultations with Amerindians and a vast array of stakeholders. The former Minister noted that the terms of reference, comprising 10 points, “target Indigenous land and this seems to be of sorts.”

She cited an example which requested that Amerindian Land Titling claims be examined, and questioned whether the 63 titles issued under the Amerindian Act of 1976 would be questioned, and the legal status queried.

The Terms of Reference (TOR), the MP further said, provide for the body to examine the details of lands already titled, but this, she opined, could be provided by the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC). She accused the Government of short selling the efforts made under the previous Government, in terms of allocating lands to Amerindians, adding that they were “ill-informed on the matter.” Indigenous leaders, such as herself, MP Sukhai stated will throw their support behind the NTC on this matter and continue to object to the COI, and to call for its dissolution.

Continuing, the MP bemoaned that no mention was made of the progress in lands for Amerindians. She said no Toshaos were invited to participate in the recently held UNFCII meeting in New York. She concluded by urging the Government to take a page out of the PPP/C Administration’s book and promote more inclusivity.

Rebutting, Vice President and Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Sydney Allicock acknowledged the presence of the two top officials from the NTC, Joel Fredericks and Lennox Shuman, and said he wanted to bring “something more substantial to the House.”

He noted that four days before the debate in the House, NTC representatives sought to “frolic” and raise the same points that the PPP had done previously. He assured that despite the fears of the Opposition, the motion would help to cement this position after 2020. He stated that all MPs needed to be truthful and helpful, and challenged the PPP to prove their claims or apologise to all the people of Guyana.

The process to ensure that Amerindians continue to have their lands maintained, started in the 1960s when Stephen Campbell travelled to the United Kingdom to meet with officials to press their cause. He also recalled that it was under the former President Forbes Burnham that the first National Amerindian Conference was held. One hundred and five (105) land titles were granted in total, he noted, with 77 communities getting titles and 28 under the former PPP/C Government. He reminded that, “Guyana’s history and all things did not begin in 1992.”

Minister Allicock called for the Opposition to withdrawn the motion and if possible, “retreat into honourable safety.”

Guyana belongs to all, Minister Allicock stated and, “We have to be part of the whole process…We have to move away from the continued fear that is being driven into people…for 23 years, we have been divided as a people and this Government is working to bring all of us together.”

In March 2017, President David Granger established a COI under the Commission of Inquiry Act, 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 any matters relating to land titling in Guyana.

Subsequently, the Terms of Reference (TOR) of the COI were published in the official gazette. The Commissioners were also appointed and are mandated to render the final report, findings and recommendations to the President on or before November 1, or any later date as may be determined by the president.

The debate was adjourned to June 15 and 16 due to time constraints.

(GINA)

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