Belle Vue co-op cane farmers have been deprived of their land; authorities will not act

Dear Editor,

It appears that some officers in the cooperative department have been delaying their intervention in the Belle Vue Co-op which is giving a private contractor time to occupy the co-op farmers’ land, without the members’ permission. Despite the farmers’ objections, he continues to occupy their land, cultivate cane and is now using this cane production as an excuse and bargaining point to gain a compromise and sympathy for his illegal action.  It appears that some officials are not considering the legal rights and livelihood of the farmers, their co-operative society and the interest of the farmers’ families.

While this individual is refusing to stop working on the land of the co-operative members, it is reported that his lawyer has been sending out lawyer’s letters, etc, to the bona fide members and affected farmers and their representatives.  Also simultaneously, some officials in the co-operative department in the Ministry of Labour, are meeting some of the affected members individually and encouraging them to accept cash in return for signing over their rights/membership to the contractor.

We want the government and all Guyanese to know, that if the Belle Vue Peasant Cane Farmers and their co-op had been given the new lease, etc, this year, that Mr B Balkarran and the Co-op Farmers Committee negotiated in 2009, based on their 5-year development and investment plan, (2010-2014), the farmers and their cooperative society would have got over 500 acres in new cane now. The production of cane would have been over 25,000 tons, or over 2,000 tons sugar, plus additional cane production in the other rehab or ratoon (old), acreage,  and have also purchased 15 punts, an I -290-MF Tractor, one plough, one Dundee and the building of a new office.
It was also reported, that despite the complaints of the co-op and farmers to Wales Estate Cane Farming Management  staff, they are continuing to give this contractor priority in relation to fertiliser, limestone, etc, while the Belle Vue Co-op society and the bona fide members are not getting their quotas, and sometimes these are over 4 to 5 months late.

The bona fide members have been calling on Minister of Labour Dr Nanda Gopaul to use the Laws of Guyana, Co-operative Act, Chapter 88:01 and the cooperative society rules to remove the unwanted committee made up of non-members, appointed on July 10, 2013, and get the bona fide members to elect from among their membership, a genuine co-op committee of management.

It was reported that on Wednesday July 10, 2013, at 10.30am, two officers from the cooperative department had a so-called farmers meeting with approximately 35 people, of which only 9 persons were legal members and shareholders of the Belle Vue Cane Farmers’ Marketing Co-operative Society, Reg 967, West Bank Demerara, Guyana. It was said that at this meeting the bona fide members objected to the presence of these non-members, and told the officers that the bona fide members, especially the affected ones had not been informed about or invited to the meeting. Despite the members’ complaints and objections, it was reported that the contractor’s representative and the two officers from the cooperative department, continued with this ‘sham’ of a meeting and oversaw the selection of 7 persons to manage  the co-operative society’s affairs. Five persons are from the group of non-members, including this contractor; also they appointed a non-member, the former secretary/clerk again.

This 56-year-old co-op is the owner of the society’s lease and the entire 704 acres of land, that was negotiated and agreed to in December 2009, between Mr Bhim of GuySuCo, Minister Robert Persaud, Mr B Balkarran and the Belle Vue Co-operative Committee of Management. The 55 bona fide members are the legal shareholders and the collective owners of this cooperative society (see 2009 membership record) and all its assets and investments. Based on the available society records and the Chief Co-operative Development Officer’s  (CCDO) 2012-appointed IMC interim report submitted to Dr Gopaul, it was reported that between 2010-2012, no members’ meeting was held to legally terminate and/or expel any member (s) from this co-op. Also there was no special members’ meeting and no CCDO approval to include the contractor and his 23-person group, posing as new members in the Belle Vue Co-op.

These people never go into Belle Vue backdam, they do not know where these plots are or which field they are situated in; they do not see or know the members whose land that they are now presuming to occupy, etc.

The bona fide members want Minister Gopaul, and Minister of Agriculture Dr L Ramsammy to come to Belle Vue Scheme, West Bank, Demerara  as soon as possible and have a real members meeting with the legal members, and give the bona fide members (the 2009 membership)  a chance to use their co-op society rules to elect a genuine and legal 9-member committee to manage their society affairs, maintain/continue production, give back the members/farmers their land and respective plots  and hire a new clerk to do their payroll, etc.

Then let this elected committee with the assistance of an auditor from the co-operative department, carry out an audit, and investigate all the allegations of fraud in relation to over payment of wages, under-pricing and the illegal disposal of the society’s assets.

The EU-Fair Trade Grant, paid to the Belle Vue Cane Farmers Co-op, was supposed to be used to help develop all the members’ cultivation.  GuySuCo’s cane farming manager  and the cooperative officers  know that in November 2009 and in January 2010, the cooperative members discussed and agreed to use this grant to help pay for the 5-year investment and development plan, so as to help develop all the members’ cultivation, increase production and income, improve their families’ living standard and purchase machinery for the co-op.                                                                                                                                                                           The 2009 legal members, also want the Minister of Labour to uphold the former CCDO’s July 2010 directive to the Belle Vue Co-op committee, to rescind their decision to illegally dispossess members. Also the Minister should assist the co-op to expel the 23 people from which the current committee of management took money to sell them members’ and society land without authorization.  And with the help of GuySuCo directors, repossess all the leased land that was illegally sold to the contractor and return it to the co-op and the affected members.

The Belle Vue Peasant cane farmers want the Guyana Government and the Guyanese people to know that over the past 36 months,  the bona fide members have signed and submitted 5 petitions to the cooperative society committee of management, Region 3 Cooperatives Officer, the CCDO, the 2012-appointed  IMC and the Minister of Labour. Also several representations were made by the peasant cane farmers and their representatives, to  GuySuCo, Mr Bhim, Mr Rajnarine, Mr Walter Persaud, Dr Gopaul, now Minister of Labour , and the Minister of Agriculture, but no assistance was given to these peasant cane farmers and their representatives, to get back their land, only promises.   We understand that not even the October 2011-Cabinet directive to the Ministry of Labour to intervene and repossess the land and return it to the dispossessed farmers and the their co-op  was carried out.

The Belle Vue Cooperative Society members are still prevented from occupying and working their land and carrying out their agreed, 5-year investment and development plan. The contractor is still occupying the farmers’ land and refusing to move out. Also GuySuCo and Wales Estate management are not helping out;  they have not given the farmers and their co-op society a certified copy of the December 2009 25-year lease approval letter, so that the co-op can use this to obtain agri loans and grants.

The Belle Vue  Co-op, the affected cane farmers and their families are appealing for the assistance of the authorities to help them get their land, justice and compensation.

Yours faithfully,
(Name and address provided)                                                                                               

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