High Court finds Govt breached Region 5 farmers’ rights
Revocation of leases
…awards $6.5M in damages, costs
Five rice farmers who sued the State over the cancellation of their leases by the Mahaica Maichony Abary/Agriculture Development Authority (MMA/ADA) have been vindicated by the High Court.
It was the familiar court battle between former Attorney General Anil Nandlall and his successor, Basil Williams, who was named as a respondent on behalf of the State. In the court ruling handed down by Justice Priya Seenarine-Beharry, farmer Sonita Bristol of West Coast Berbice (WCB) was awarded $1 million as damages and $300,000 in costs.
The court ruled that the revocation of her lease was null and void and granted injunctions preventing the MMA/ADA from moving against her land. It also ordered the third named respondent to give up the land.
Bristol, whose land was located south of the MMA main canal in Number 40 Village, West Coast Berbice, claimed in her affidavit that she learnt of her lease being cancelled without notice on March 18, 2016, through a notice in the newspaper. She subsequently learned that her land was occupied by Nigel Gordon, the third named respondent in her claim.
Meanwhile, a similar ruling was made in the case of Chalyn Ann McKalman, who took Attorney General Basil Williams, on behalf of the State, the MMA/ADA and Mark and Joseph Ross to court over her land.
In the cases of Sharon Solomon, Fariel Johnson and Doreen Monah, they were also awarded $1 million in damages and $300,000 in costs. Monah, in particular, argued in her affidavit that after being dispossessed of her land by the MMA/ADA, it was awarded to other people.
In Solomon’s affidavit, she detailed that before her lease was revoked, her land was occupied by the Seafield Co-op, which rented her land to a farmer known as “Big bull”. This farmer, the affidavit states, was forcefully removed from said land by the Co-op, which instead of giving it to her, rented it to the fourth named respondent, Lincoln Samaroo.
Besides awarding them their damages and costs, the court also issued an injunction restraining MMA/ADA from interfering with the farmers’ land.
It was only in 2015 that another set of farmers – Phillip Johnson, Rupert Blackman and Rawle Miller – had filed legal action against the MMA/ADA, challenging the cancellation of State land leases in the rear of Seafield, West Coast Berbice.
The farmers had claimed that the leases were granted by former President Donald Ramotar and only the Head of State has the right to make such a cancellation.
After months of hearing, former Chief Justice Ian Chang in February of 2016 quashed the cancellation of the leases in favour of the farmers.
However, the farmers said they were subsequently informed by General Manager of MMA/ADA Aubrey Charles that President Granger has cancelled their leases. Besides their leases being revoked, farmers also had to deal with land rental fee increases.