After meeting aggrieved members of the former Rosinante Farmers’ Co-operative Society on Friday, the Guyana Lands and Survey Commission (GL&SC) will be taking steps to ensure that members have access to the more than 600 acres of lands.
“Since I have been here, I’ve gotten several letters and I’ve gotten several visits from people in both areas and they have been complaining that they have applied for many years and that they have been removed. Some said other people have been stopping them from doing work and a host of other complaints,” recently appointed Commissioner of the GL&SC Trevor Benn told Stabroek News after a meeting with the group.
“All public lands in Guyana are under the custody of the President of Guyana and through him the Commissioner of Lands and Surveys, so I was a little anxious getting all these reports seemingly that there are a lot of landlords in the area. I wanted to find out for myself what was going on in Rosinante, so I initiated the process… and hence the notices in the papers to advise them about this meeting and to get to hear from the people on the ground directly,” Benn further explained.
The Rosinante Co-op was embroiled in a bitter land dispute back in 1995 and saw political intervention from then Opposition Leader Desmond Hoyte, who flayed then President Cheddi Jagan, for allowing the state to take away the lands from the Rosinante Co-op and give it to the Boerasirie Co-op.
Hoyte had taken sides in the land dispute between the two farmers’ groups on the East Bank of the Essequibo, after Jagan had ordered that lands belonging to them be given to the Boerasirie Co-op. The feud, which led to court action and a court ruling, continued with both laying legal claim to the former sugar lands, distributed to registered co-operatives under the PNC administration dating back to 1968.
A settlement was reached and Rosinante was given 661 acres behind the Tuschen New Housing Scheme and at Farm/Ruby on the East Bank of Essequibo and its members said that over the years there has been “more and more turmoil” between them. “You have some devious people within the co-op and some present at this same meeting here… that sold these lands and then now come back to claim lands. Well no, that can’t work. I need Mr Granger to step in and see that the stalwarts working the land now need representation and need fairness,” member Leon Marcus told Stabroek News.
“But they can’t sell the land because it is state land and like when they understand that will be against them some of them get a card to say that they were in the co-op but I know that they were not in the co-op. What they have is an agreement between them and [name given] who they paid to work the land. So I hope all these things will be investigated,” Marcus added.
While other members spoke of their woes, none wanted to have their names stated though they agreed with all that Marcus was saying.
He explained that in 1995, when Hoyte had intervened, it was because members of the Boerasirie co-op had laid claims to lands he occupies. However, he said that a settlement for the 661 acres was reached and Hoyte had told him and other farmers to leave Boerasirie with what they claimed and Rosinante will work the 661 acres.
“The government then gave Rosinante 500 acres at Tushen and 161 acres at Farm backdam, which is in Ruby… I would like good sense to prevail and let the farming continue. The meeting with Lands and Survey went well so far at this point in time but I don’t know what will happen afterward but we will let the process be and see what happens,” Marcus, who touted himself as ‘The Fearless One,’ asserted.
The GL&SC Commissioner explained that he was pleased at the number of persons who attended Friday’s meeting, while saying that it was a very good representation of what the issues were as many people spoke about their association with the two co-ops—the Rosinante Cane farmers Co-op and a successor, called the Rosinante Marketing co-op.
He said that documentation brought by the members was taken to help the commission to understand what was happening in the two areas.
And now that GL&SC has heard from the Rosinante members, Benn said, it will undertake a field inspection in the two areas, for which dates will be publicised, to determine the extent of the occupation and to try to resolve any conflicts among the competing interests in the areas.
“I gather there are a number of people who have claims to the same areas. So we are going to try to help to resolve that because I suspect there are enough lands for the persons here and those that didn’t make it in, to have an area to operate. We are going to try to examine who is where, we are going to see who is left out and we are going to do a draft plan of the area. Once that plan is ready, we will bring the people back for them to look at what we have designed for their accommodation and then we will try to allocate to them,” he said.
“For those who are not on the ground, because some of them have stopped going because they were threatened by others and so forth, they will have a chance to have their say too. It is an untidy situation there, even though some have evidence they were members of the co-op and they were occupying the lands and so on, they were not allowed because other members within the same co-op threatened them and so forth. Those are the kinds of issues that motivated me get involved,” he added.
Members have been put on guard that as part of the resolution of the issue, they might not be able to keep the current land they are working and might have to relocate while some others might end up with less land than they applied for and have expected. “Once we have the draft, we will bring them in, so that each of the persons associated will be able to get some land. They may not be able to get the amount that they want, and I made that very clear to them, but we will definitely ensure that each person gets some acreage. It may also depends on what they want to do and we will look at all the interests and be as fair as possible so that no one is left out,” Benn asserted.
He also informed that there were allegations of land being sold and that although persons might have documentation to show that they bought land, those are not valid since all the land belongs to the state. Therefore, alleged buyers should not expect that they will be given the land by the commission.
“That issue will also be dealt with. None of the people there are authorised to sell land. The Lands and Surveys Commission does not sell land, we lease land and anybody buying land should not see it as a guarantee that they will get the land they paid for. Because unless Lands [and Surveys] were involved in that process then we cannot be held responsible and I made that clear in the meeting this morning,” the commissioner stated.