Orealla residents seek to block lease of land to Crabwood Creek businessman

-call for president to order probe of village council

Residents of Orealla are trying to prevent the Orealla-Siparuta Village Council from leasing 300 acres of land to a Crabwood Creek businessman to conduct farming activities.

Carl Peneux, a representative of Orealla Village, in the Corentyne River, told Stabroek News that the businessman would be hiring Chinese to work on the project.

He pointed out that although Siparuta is part of the Orealla reservation, the village went ahead and acted on its own to make the decision to lease the land. 

Carl Peneux
Carl Peneux

The reason for that, he said, is because Siparuta is being run by six councillors, while Orealla currently has only four, due to multiple resignations, and they have not been meeting. As a result, he said any decision that the Siparuta councillors make “would not be fair and square….”

He added, “They are trying to push that project without Orealla’s consent… But it will not happen because Orealla would not consent and that would be a big issue to be raised at a meeting next week.”

He pointed out that they had sent a letter to the Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs Sydney Allicock, “but he has not responded, not even with an acknowledgement letter and we are left just like that. They [ministry officials] had said, by phone, that they would send some people to the area following the Heritage Month celebrations.”

Peneux pointed out that the reason the council only has four members is because “the toshao is not functioning as he should.”

According to him, there have been ongoing problems in the village with the council and since July, 2015, when the new one was formed, five councillors, including the treasurer and the secretary, have resigned.

He recalled that in July this year, the treasurer read her letter of resignation and it was accepted. About two weeks later, they were shocked when the toshao brought her in back to work, claiming that the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs instructed him to do so.

“That is unacceptable to the villagers …,” he said, while also complaining that a general meeting was due last month and for about five months council meetings have not been called.

Petition

Residents have sent a petition to President David Granger to address their concerns. In the petition, seen by Stabroek News, the residents appealed to the President to “decree an urgent change to the Orealla Village Council and direct an immediate investigation into the preceding council and this present council’s operations.”

Meanwhile, an audit was done on the previous council and it showed that there was misappropriation of funds from 2012 to 2015. The current toshao and the treasurer were part of that council.

“He [toshao] must do better… but he is doing the same thing or even worse… and we want an investigation,” Peneux said.

Peneux noted the residents are again calling for “an investigation into these findings because there are some things surfacing after the audit was done.”

“For example, the toshao then took $900,000 advance from a businessman name Francis to cut some bullet wood… but he has not accounted for that money,” he said. “He never did that project and now Francis has deducted that money from this present council…,” he added.

It was stated in the petition too that the government gave Orealla $2M as a grant for the Golden Jubilee celebrations but the villagers did not have confidence in the toshao or the council and authorised the tourism committee, of which Peneux is the chairman, to plan projects that the money would be used for.

The projects they undertook included repairing five bridges along the main road, cleaning the beach and the riverfront, and brush cutting the major roads. The rest of the money was to be used to repair the village’s benab.

They sent the plans to the ministry and it was approved and the money was sent to the council’s bank account.

Peneux also said that the toshao failed to hand over $640,000, claiming that it was spent to “bring out players from Orealla for the heritage [celebrations] in Georgetown… He claimed that the minister told him to do that and the minister sent two persons to check how that money was spent.”

Peneux told this newspaper that last year $1.9M was given to fix the Orealla/Siparuta trail but “they never did it. That money was not accounted for… There is a lot of corruption… And I am saying if we have this investigation, it can be proven what cannot be accounted for.”