The MMA is not moving to take away state lands at Cotton Tree from the residents

Dear Editor,
In response to a totally inaccurate and grossly misleading article headed ‘Cotton Tree Residents battling MMA over titled lands‘ published in the Thursday, December 6 edition of the Kaieteur News, the MMA herein issues the following statement:

There is absolutely no truth whatsoever that the MMA or government is moving to ‘take away’ the state lands at Cotton Tree from the residents there. That will never happen.

Instead, there is an ongoing process which started in 2005 upon their request, to ‘divide up’ the lands and award them their individual titles. The original title (now cancelled) – Licence of Occupancy A105 -covering 1753 acres was issued in 1905 to the then proprietors of Cotton Tree.

Not unexpectedly, after 100 years, things have changed; the village population has grown and everyone wants to have a piece of the state land.
There was therefore the need to treat with their request for regularization.

So far, we have held a number of meetings in the village conducting investigations and gathering   information. This is very necessary for the transparency and fairness that is required.

Some aspects of the information sought included the following:

(a) Claims to entitlement – inheritance from foreparents, etc
(b)  Ownership of freehold (transported) lands at the front
(c)  Domicile history of claimants
(d)  Current and historical occupation and control of state lands
(e)  Speculation – sales and purchases – of the transported and state lands
(f) Needs – family size, source of income, etc.

During our interactions, we found some situations that concerned us gravely. For instance, we received representation of ownership for over 168 plots in the rice area and another 85 plots in the reef area.  However, only 27 persons controlled and cultivated all the lands with one farmer alone cultivating over 500 acres; another rented out over 230 acres.

Many of the purported owners had migrated but continued to exercise control over the state lands from overseas, having their agents renting them out to other farmers in the area.

A large number of plots had changed occupation by informal sale. Some of these transactions are done overseas. We even heard of situations where the son would sell while the father is overseas, who upon return would deem the sale illegal, and demand back the land without giving back the buyer any money. Any resistance from the buyer is threatened with court action.

Many other similar situations were brought to our attention which we believe were sufficient to justify our decision to have the situation regularized.
During all of this too the drainage and irrigation charges were not being paid. As a result we initiated the process to recover these charges. This process is the same as for all the other areas within the MMA and, as has been well publicized for some years now, the continued refusal to pay drainage and irrigation charges leads to re-possession and re-allocation of state lands.

As in 2008, we have been publishing notices for some months now. Many persons have responded and yet some have not. We take this opportunity to again warn those defaulters.

This is the real problem of Mansoor Khan, who is featured in the Kaieteur News article We first published his drainage and irrigation indebtedness during the re-possession/re-allocation exercise of 2008.  He owed three hundred and five thousand, one hundred and eighteen dollars ($305,118.00) then.  He refused to pay although the lands were cultivated by people who were paying him a rent.  Instead he filed suit in court against us. His case was “struck out as being wholly misconceived” in a ruling by Madam Justice George on May 21, 2009. Notwithstanding this he still has not paid anything as of date.

Currently his account stands at $428,518.00 as at June 30, 2012, and we have already received expressions of interest from other persons of Cotton Tree to be allocated the state lands that he controls. Mr Khan has had previous difficulties with the MMA in relation to land and payment issues.
So in summary, the issue is not, and has never been the taking away of the lands from the people of Cotton Tree. As we continue to move the process forward, however, it is our responsibility to ensure a fair and equitable process of allocation to them. Presently, we will be doing some surveys and we will be holding the next set of meetings with them.

It is our hope that all the residents and descendants of the proprietors of Cotton Tree will be given a title to or an interest in the state lands there as we guard against only a few persons, some of whom don’t even live in Guyana, being the only ones to benefit as is happening now.
Yours faithfully,
Aubrey Charles
General Manager
Mahaica Mahaicony Abary Agricul-tural Development Authority

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