Speaker Dr. Barton Scotland yesterday refused an application by former attorney-general Anil Nandlall to adjourn the scheduled business of the National Assembly to consider a motion calling on President David Granger to revoke the appointment of the Commission of Inquiry into land ownership.
In his ruling, Scotland said while he found that the matter was of public importance it lacked urgency, which did not go down well with Nandlall and his opposition PPP/C colleagues, who all stood with him as he argued to be allowed to present to motion to the House even after the Speaker had ruled.
A number of Amerindian groups have condemned the commission of inquiry, including the National Toshaos Council (NTC). It was on this basis that Nandlall crafted his motion, which was seconded by former Minister of Amerindian Affairs Pauline Sukhai.
In the recital to the motion, Nandlall said the commission was set up without “Free Prior and Informed Consent” consultations with the NTC, which is the sole and legitimate representative body of the Amerindian peoples and communities, and the recognised non-governmental organisations representing Amerindians in Guyana. He also said that the organisations have all condemned the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry as a mechanism to guide the process of addressing the land issues as it relates to the Amerindian people of Guyana.
Nandlall had sought to have his motion considered as a “definite matter of urgent importance,” in accordance with the Standing Orders.
In his ruling, the Speaker noted that an adjournment motion is a very potent and effective device to enable a member to bring to the attention of the Assembly any matter which has arisen “suddenly and it is of public importance.”
He pointed out that Standing Order 12:2 provides that the Speaker shall choose to allow the claim if he/she is satisfied that the matter is definite, urgent and of public importance.
“The Speaker holds that the matter of which he has received notification is definite and it is clearly of public importance. The matter appears to the Speaker, however, to be lacking of urgency,” he ruled, while pointing out that the issued occurred since March 11.
“The fact that the matter complained of is still in existence does not render it urgent. In the circumstances, I rule that the motion does not meet the threshold required for such a motion. It is, therefore, out of order and is disallowed,” he added.
Nandlall then rose to his feet and attempted to speak and when asked by the Speaker if he wished to speak against his ruling he responded in the negative but said he “wished to be heard.”
“Are you rising against the Speaker’s ruling?” the Speaker queried again and for a second time Nandlall responded in the negative but maintained that he wanted to be heard since his application was not presented to the House and he wanted to do so before the Speaker could rule.
“Honourable Mr. Nandlall I have heard you, I have heard you, the motion is disallowed,” the Speaker said as Nandlall continued to stress that he had not presented the motion and questioned whether he was being prevented from doing so, to which the Speaker responded, “If that is so then so be it, please resume your seat.”
It was at this point all the opposition members present stood in unison and Nandlall said 18 members were rising to call for the motion to be presented and was told by the Speaker that the numbers would not make a difference and he suggested that they study the Standing order to which he referred to, while pointing out that there is nothing that allows for the Speaker’s ruling to be reversed.
Nandlall and his colleagues continued to stand for a while as he attempted to read the Standing Order but the Speaker pointed out that he was aware of it and has studied same and once again advised that they took their seat and abide by his ruling.
They subsequently did.
The NTC has called on President Granger to establish a separate commission to deal with land rights of the indigenous peoples, while claiming it had not been consulted prior to the setting up of the recent Commission of Inquiry.
“We call on His Excellency for a complete repeal of the mandate of this commission and to establish the Indigenous Peoples’ Lands Commission,” the NTC said in a statement, while noting that it was never consulted in the formation of the body and that it would not offer its co-operation.
However, President Granger has stated that not only were there consultations but also recommendations which he used in selecting members of the commission. Granger also made the distinction that while there is one Commission of Inquiry into land rights, it will look at the issues of land pertaining to African Guyanese and Amerindian Guyanese, separately.
The commission is chaired by Reverend George Chuck-a-Sang, and its other members are David James, Carol Khan-James, Professor Rudolph James, Lennox Caleb, Berlinda Persaud and Paulette Henry.
Granger had said that the commission of inquiry would be tasked with examining and making recommendations to resolve all the issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual, joint or communal ownership of land acquired by freed Africans; claims of Amerindian land titling; and other matters relative to land titling.