Guyana has no dedicated ancestral land institution – GL&SC Commissioner

…more updated systems needed to better process titles, leases\

By Lakhram Bhagirat

Public hearings in the controversial Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into African and Amerindian ancestral lands began on Monday with the Amerindian aspect being put on hold until President David Granger orders the commencement.
The CoI heard that there are no designated institutions to deal with ancestral lands in Guyana, and the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) needs a more updated system to execute its mandate.
President Granger in March of this year established the 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.

The Commissioner at start of the public hearing part of the CoI

The Commission is headed by Reverend Oswald Peter Chuck-A-Sang, and include Paulette Henry, David James, Carol Khan-James, Professor Rudolph James, Lennox Caleb and Berlinda Persaud. The public hearings are being conducted at the GL&SC Secretariat in Durban Backlands.
First to take the stand in the public inquiry process was Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of the GL&SC, Trevor Benn, and he told the CoI that while there is no designated ancestral lands institution in Guyana, the GL&SC is responsible for overseeing all public lands. He added that the entity has the authority to lease those lands and provide titles as well.
He explained that in order for persons to acquire leases for state or government land, they are required to submit an expression of interest and the Commission will take the process further.
When asked about gaps in the system, Benn said no system is perfect and that they are continuously working to upgrade. He, however, noted that the lack of a computerized database often hinders the work of the commission.
“We are operating a paper-based system at them, and because of that it takes extraordinarily long to process applications, and we would like to see a more electronic process to ensure that our clients receive more rapid attention in terms of their application process,” Benn said.
He told the commission that there are over 15 agencies that deal with lands in Guyana, and it can be confusing at times for citizens when it comes to determining where the authority lies. He said those should be looked, at because some of the functions are contradictory to the work of the GL&SC.
However, the Commissioner informed that all the agencies work together where necessary in order to execute their mandate.
He testified that the GL&SC has been inundated with reports relative to land administration, but quite often the issues reported do not fall within the mandate of the authority. Benn added that there are policies that need to be changed and legislations that ought to be amended.
However, he said the agency is not responsible for crafting legislation; rather, it is there just to implement them.
Lack of infrastructure
Meanwhile, GL&SC’s Manager of Land Administration, Michael Hutson, testified that while the commission receives over 5,000 expressions of interest on an annual basis, it has the capacity to comfortably process only approximately 1,200 of those each year.
“We are lacking in infrastructure in order to make more land available and satisfy the need of the people. If the Department of Land Administration had the resources to put in infrastructure, then we will be able to allocate more lands,” Hutson said.
The sworn surveyor said the commission has the authority to issue leases to different persons for the same plot of land. He explained that his department processes the applications and makes recommendations to the Commissioner, who forwards the applications to the President for his approval.
When asked about how the GL&SC deals with squatters, he explained that while the law provides for prosecution, the authority has never done so.
Central Housing and Planning Authority’s Director of Operations, Denise King-Tudor, told the commission that her department is responsible for the allocation of residential and commercial properties. She explained that in order for one to acquire a residential plot of land, one must be over 18 years old and be a citizen of Guyana residing here for over six months.
Tudor responded in the negative when asked by CoI Counsel Darren Wade whether the children of former government officials, within the People’s Progressive Party under the age of 21 had received land allocations.
She suggested to the CoI that there should be a working committee with the heads of the various land agencies to ensure that they do not usurp each other’s functions and create conflicts. She added that they are currently reviewing their systems to ensure every citizen who qualifies receive government house lots. The public hearings continue today.