The persistence of the High Court case involving some Region 7 communities shows that the government is not implementing the principle of free, prior and informed consent agreed in the Norway MoU

Dear Editor, 
Guyana Chronicle reported that the Minister of Amerindian Affairs (MoAA) and Ministry staff, with some members of the National Toshaos Council, visited eight communities in Region 7 (‘Minister Sukhai completes five-day outreach to Region 7 communities,’ GC August 17).  According to the Chronicle, the Minister spoke about the “land demarcation and extension issue.”  No reference was made in the GC article that four of the eight communities have been contesting the land titling process in the High Court for 13 years; the four communities are Jawalla, Kamarang, Paruima and Phillipai, together with two other Amerindian Villages (Kako and Waramadong) in the Upper Mazaruni which were apparently not visited during the Minister’s tour.  The Minister is reported to have said, “If you want security for land, the law dictates that if your community is titled, then it must be demarcated.”  The Minister was partly correct in that that the Amerindian Act 2006, Article 63 (1), states that “If an application [for communal land title] is approved title shall be granted under the State Lands Act.”  

However, the Minister appears to contradict the statements made by her then MoAA staff member, Norman Whittaker MP, now Minister of Local Government.  Mr Whittaker pointed out in his letters published in Guyana Chronicle (‘Amnesty International Report 2011 on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights in Guyana far removed from the truth,’ GC July 7, 2011) and in Kaieteur News (‘Amnesty International Report on Guyana’s Indigenous Peoples distorts the truth,’ July 11, 2011) the two relevant sections in the State Lands Regulations 1973, which are section 18 (1) and 19 (2).  Here follows the text of those two sections:

18 (1) – Subject to regulation 19, no grant or lease shall be made for any tract of State land, and no transfer of a lease or licence in respect of part only of the land to which it relate shall be made unless the tract to be granted, leased or licensed or transferred has been surveyed by a surveyor of the Department  [Lands and Surveys] or, with the approval of the Commissioner, by some other duly qualified surveyor, in which latter case the Commissioner shall refund to the applicant the survey fee prescribed in the First Schedule.

“19 (2) – The Commissioner may waive survey or direct that only a partial survey shall be made where the application is for a licence in respect of a tract of land bounded by creeks or other well-defined limits or the boundaries of which are otherwise well-marked, or for renewal of a licence of a tract which has been already surveyed, or for a licence to collect rubber, balata or other gums or plants; unless the Commissioner considers in any of such cases that a survey is necessary.” 

For those Amerindian villages with creek or topographic ridges or other well-marked boundaries, it appears that no survey, and hence no demarcation by expensive coastland surveyors, may be required.  There does not seem to be any public record of the Commissioner of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission having determined that a survey was necessary for the Upper Mazaruni villages.  Why, then, was the Minister telling the communities in Region 7 that demarcation is necessary? 

Would it not be more beneficial for the Minister to focus her attention on the blocks which are preventing resolution of this amazingly long delayed High Court case, and so aid these communities in their struggles against miners who are working on their traditional lands, contrary to Article 111 of the Mining Act 1989?  The persistence of the High Court case shows that the government is not actually implementing the principle of free, prior and informed consent which it has agreed it would apply in its MoU with Norway; a principle which the Minister was reported to have reiterated during her tour as a principle of the PPP/C administration.

Yours faithfully,
Janette Bulkan

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