Government is not considering an amendment to the Amerindian Act at this stage despite calls by some indigenous groups for action to be taken in light of a recent court ruling that upheld a miner’s right to continue with operations on lands within the Isseneru village.
The decision sparked protests by Isseneru villagers as well as indigenous groups and some Amerindian leaders. At this stage, government is not considering amending the Act, Attorney General Anil Nandlall told Stabroek News when approached on Friday. “I believe the parties involved have indicated an intention to appeal and therefore prudence would dictate that one ought to wait the determination of, at a minimum, the Court of Appeal if not the Caribbean Court of Justice before one considers an amendment,” he said.
“To consider amending at this stage would be premature,” the Attorney General added. Nandlall said that it would be premature because it is only a “first instance decision” meaning that it is only the High Court that has ruled.
The legislation has come under scrutiny following the ruling on January 17 by Justice Diana Insanally, who made orders granted to miner Joan Chang against the Isseneru Village Council and the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) final. Members of the Village Council had contended that the company was mining on titled lands without the council’s permission under the Amerindian Act and despite subsequent Cease Work Orders (CWOs) issued by the GGMC mining officer.
However, Justice Insanally pointed out in her ruling that by virtue of Chang being granted a licence to mine prior to the coming into operation of the Amerindian Act of 2006, the Village Council had no authority to stop the operation and the GGMC no authority to issue the CWOs.
Since the decision, Isseneru villagers and their supporters have held protests and vigils outside the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs and Office of the President.
Last week, President Donald Ramotar and Minister of Amerindian Affairs, Pauline Sukhai met with the council representatives and their attorney David James. Sukhai was quoted as saying by the Government Information Agency (GINA) that they would work together with respect to examining the case and consider appealing.
Meantime, in a letter, published in Stabroek News last week, Chang’s lawyer Abiola Wong-Inniss noted that her client’s interest, which was by way of a claim licence, was in existence prior to 1989 and it was not open to the state when framing the provisions of the Amerindian Act to derogate from such rights. “Therefore, such rights were expressly excluded in the following terms, namely, “Save and except all lands legally held,” and such a provision conforms to the underlying intention of the rights afforded by Article 142 of the Constitution which provides protection from deprivation of property,” Wong-Inniss wrote.