Speaker disallows PPP motion calling for Land CoI to be revoked

says matter “not urgent”

The Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) motion calling for the revocation of the appointment of the Lands Commission of Inquiry (CoI) was shut down by Speaker of the House, Dr Barton Scotland, during Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly because he deemed it “not urgent”.

Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr Barton Scotland

The motion, signed by Opposition Members of Parliament Anil Nandlall and Pauline Sukhai, had identified the issue as one of “national public importance.” Among other things, the motion stated: “…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.”

Having read the motion and deeming it “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 (MPs) then stood up in protest against the Speaker’s decision, but he refused to alter his stance.

Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo; Opposition Chief Whip, Gail Teixeira; MP Irfaan Ali and a few others were noticeably absent from the proceedings, as they had been granted leave from Thursday’s sitting of the National Assembly.

President David Granger established, on March 10, 2017, 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 in 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 and 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 NTC has emphasised.

Calling for the establishment of two separate entities to deal with the two different issues, the NTC has 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 has said.

That body has noted that failure to do as they have asked would demonstrate that Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples are being marginalised by the Government of Guyana.

The Amerindian leaders have reminded that it was the Head of State who had made the promise, during the NTC Conference of 2015, to establish a “Hinterland and Indigenous Peoples Lands Commission” to address all Indigenous land issues.

The NTC has 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 Peoples Progressive Party (PPP) has subsequently expressed its support of the NTC’s call for the scrapping of the Commission of Inquiry, and has said further that it would have advanced the concerns of the NTC in the National Assembly following a meeting the Leader of the Opposition had with the Indigenous peoples, wherein hundreds of Amerindians had turned up to register their concerns.

 The PPP has said the CoI’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 says 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,” the PPP has said.

Moreover, the PPP has outlined, “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 (has) led to the Amerindian Act becoming a reality.”