Govt buckles to pressure: approves titles, extensions for 8 Indigenous communities
After heavy criticisms
Days after it was heavily criticised over its handling of land titles and extensions within Guyana’s Indigenous community by the Opposition, Government on Friday announced that eight communities will soon be receiving either their title certificates or extensions, with Cabinet having recently approved the absolute grants under the Amerindian Land Titling (ALT) Project, which is funded by the Guyana REDD+ Investment Fund (GRIF) to the tune of US$10.7 million.
Grants were approved for the establishment of legal boundaries in the communities of Parabaru, Region Nine (Upper Takatu-Essequibo); Rockstone, Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice), and in Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni), Tasserene and Kangaruma.
Meanwhile, existing communities which had their grants approved for extensions are Mainstay/Whyaka, Mashabo and Capoey, on the Essequibo Coast, Region Two (Pomeroon-Supenaam).
This was revealed by Director General at the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon, who told reporters on Friday that these approvals were granted based on recommendations from the Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Ministry, which has responsibility for the ALT project.
“All of the approved grants have been made with conditionalities based on their respective peculiar circumstances,” he explained.
The Amerindian Land Titling process was facilitated by the Amerindian Act of 2006 which catered for land titling and extensions. This led to the establishment of the Amerindian Land Titling Project, which commenced in 2013 and was scheduled to end in 2016. This was a US$10.7 million project funded by the GRIF programme and according to the Director General, the allotted sum has not been exhausted.
In May 2018, Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs Minister Sydney Allicock had told the Parliamentary Sectoral Committee on Natural Resources at the National Assembly that some $500 million has been spent on the Project.
The ALT Project was extended by the coalition Government from 2016 to 2018 and then again from 2019 to 2021.
Of the 68 interventions identified, Harmon revealed that 21 demarcations have been completed and 18 certificates of titles issued thus far in the project. Additionally, 45 investigations have been completed which include 32 for extensions and 13 for new villages.
“Cabinet in approving the granting of the land titles reiterate its commitment to the completion of the Amerindian Land Titling Project and gave assurance that the project will continue until the Indigenous communities receive their titles in accordance with the law,” the Director General said.
However, the coalition Government has come under heavy criticism by the Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) over its failure to title Indigenous lands.
Only Friday at this weekly press conference, Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo bashed the coalition on this as well as “disparaging statements” by several Government officials on Indigenous people.
He pointed out that the issue of land titling has been a historic promise by the PNC during the Independence period and was first made by the People’s National Congress (PNC) – the largest party in the APNU fraction of the coalition Government.
Jagdeo, a former two-term President of Guyana, noted that when the PPP took office in 1992, it worked hard with limited resources to complete the demarcation in some areas and give out more titles. He noted that during that time, titled lands moved from 6 per cent to 14 per cent in Guyana.
“We left over $10 million USD and an Amerindian Land Titling Unit to continue the work and this [coalition] Government dismantled that unit but now they want to re-establish it because we’re getting close to elections. This is one of their promises at the last elections to accelerate the process. But they have not even titled one single village in the four years [in office] although we left with over $2 billion to do this in the programme and with a Unit in place. So they’ve just totally neglected that,” he contended.
Moreover, Minister Allicock also came under fire recently when he said at the launch of Indigenous Heritage Month 2019 that some villages have failed to adequately occupy the lands that they possess and utilise them accordingly yet they are applying for more access to lands. He had also declared that a Village Improvement Plan (VIP) is important in identifying developments that are needed and that this should, instead, be the focus of the Indigenous communities in the country.
However, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Member of Parliament, Yvonne Pearson, who represents the rights of Indigenous people on the Opposition side in the National Assembly, said such a statement goes against the rights of Indigenous peoples that are outlined in the Amerindian Act of 2006.
She pointed out that the Government should not be withholding lands from the Indigenous communities; lands that belong to them, but should seek to honour its obligations to Indigenous folks in the country and abide by the guidelines of the Amerindian Act.
According to Pearson, at present, the livelihoods and development of Indigenous peoples are being stymied because of policies that the current Government has implemented.
She emphasised that the Indigenous populace depends heavily on farming activities on these lands; therefore, the APNU/AFC Government must facilitate land extensions since they are necessary for Indigenous folks to survive.
The Amerindian Act of 2006 states that a village may apply in writing to the Minister (of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs) for a grant of State lands as an extension to its village lands.
Furthermore, Indigenous communities can apply in writing to the subject Minister provided that it has been in existence for over 25 years at the time of application and for the immediately preceding five years, it comprises at least 150 persons among others.
However, the Act does not require a Village Improvement Plan for the processing or granting of land extensions to any Indigenous village or community.