Trade unionist Lincoln Lewis yesterday appeared before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into African ancestral land matters and he offered proof that an ancestor bought the village of Kingelly on the West Coast Berbice in the 1800s and asked for assistance in reclaiming the remaining unoccupied land.
Lewis presented the transport for the village, which he stated was dated 1850, to the CoI. He had also told the commission that his great-great-grandfather, Kojo McPherson, had also bought the village of Lichfield, West Coast Berbice in 1840, but said that squatting was only an issue in Kingelly.
“…That my great, great, great grandfather Kojo did not leave a will for his descendants is a matter of perspective in the era that he lived; that the absence of such document may have caused others not of his lineage to think that it is acceptable to claim land that they did not purchase nor could not have inherited, our submission to this commission is to have this injustice corrected,” Lewis told the commission.
Lewis’ case was made on behalf of the heirs to the estate. He related that that their hope is that they be able to occupy the remaining lands without conflict.
Lewis said that squatting at Kingelly has been an issue since around 1905. He said that he is aware of instances where the squatters have attempted to secure transports to the land in the past but he is unsure whether any succeeded.
Commissioner Carol Khan-James then asked whether those occupying the lands may be the descendants of those original squatters, to which Lewis stated that that may be the case.
Asked why the heirs to the estate never occupied the land, Lewis said that the option was considered, but they decided against it, noting that there would always be the issue of why they have rights to the land. He further stated that the rule of law needs to be followed.
Asked if any other means of securing the land have been pursued, Lewis related that in the 1960s the matter was taken to court but it has not progressed since then. He could not recall the last time the case was called for hearing.
Lewis’ testimony came after an Alberttown resident, Royce Brandt, who had come before the commission to air her grievances in relation to a land matter said her case has been before the court for 10 years. After the commission established that Brandt’s testimony had no bearing on the terms of reference of the inquiry, and on the grounds that the matter is still engaging the court, her testimony before the commission was discontinued.
Meanwhile, Commissioner of the Guyana Forestry Com-mission (GFC) James Singh, said during his appearance yesterday that while there are overlaps in the jurisdictions of state agencies authorised to deal with land titling, efforts are made to minimise conflict.
He related that the GFC is responsible for the management of state forest estates, which account for 12.6 million hectares of Guyana’s land.
Pointing out that Guyana’s laws provide for multiple use of the land, which was mentioned in earlier testimony, Singh related that property holders may be given an ultimatum when issues arise, in an effort to facilitate a compromise. “There are different land uses and we try as far as possible to have them co-exist,” Singh stated, while noting that doing so often calls for inter-agency collaboration as the issue of land being titled to more than one party is prevalent.
Ndibi Schwiers, Director of the Department of the Environment, also testified and she stated that the ministry will soon begin national consultations to develop the Green State Development Strategy, which will take into consideration recommendations for action within its framework at both the national and local levels.
Schwiers appeared on behalf of the Department, which falls within the ambit of the Ministry of the Presidency.
The department covers four agencies: the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Parks Commission, the Wildlife Commission and the Protected Areas Commission.
Schwiers related yesterday that the biggest challenge faced by the department is the development of land without environmental authorisation as agencies may grant such without first consulting with the EPA.
She later noted that the reorganisation of the EPA was because the agency was not functioning as it ought to have been. Schwiers related that there are now 10 units, including one to deal with land resources, which is expected to adopt a preemptive approach to dealing with land issues.
“By law the EPA issues what is referred to as first development consent, however, some project proponents engage the authorisation process after they have started their development. Due to lack of proper zoning, many commercial and industrial activities, are located in residential areas, oftentimes, below dwelling houses with developers not having the financial capability of mitigating negative effects…By the time the EPA gets involved, neighbours are already complaining about adverse impacts or effects to them and to the environment,” Schwiers read from her statement.
She related that the department is currently working with other agencies to help them gain a better understanding of the EPA Act.
In addition, Schwiers said that the ministry does not deal with sustainable land use as it relates to communal lands, while emphasising that the organisation acts at the policy level, and that implementation is a job for the sub-agencies. She related, however, that such an issue is the mandate of the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission.
The CoI’s mandate is to examine and make recommendations to resolve all the issues and uncertainties surrounding the individual joint or communal ownership of land acquired by freed African; claims of Amerindian land titling and other matters relative to land titling.
It is being chaired by Reverend George Chuck-a-Sang, with Khan-James, David James, Professor Rudolph James, Lennox Caleb, Berlinda Persaud, and Paulette Henry serving as commissioners.