Approximately one hundred and fifty families residing in Kingelly Village, West Coast Berbice yesterday signalled their interest in appearing before the Lands Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to challenge statements made by trade unionist Lincoln Lewis that his ancestor owns the land they live on.
Lewis on August 29, 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. Lewis asked the CoI for assistance in peacefully reclaiming the remaining unoccupied land
Attorney at law Anil Nandlall who is representing all the villagers yesterday wrote the Secretary of the CoI asking for three weeks to submit a statement which will enable them an opportunity to testify.
In a statement to the media, the attorney said that both in and out of the National Assembly the opposition PPP/C had opposed the establishment of the CoI into land ownership on the grounds that it “would cause serious conflicts among segments of our population”. Nandlall who is a PPP/C MP said that he spoke on this issue at length in a motion tabled in the National Assembly.
“As predicted, grave disputes have arisen in the village of Kingelly, West Coast Berbice, where approximately 150 families are opposed to evidence presented to the Commission that one Kojo McPherson, had owned the said village by Transport”, he said, adding that earlier in the day he met with some of the affected villagers. According to Nandlall some of them are holders of transports for lands in the village, which they occupy.
“These persons and others and their ancestors, have been in occupation of these lands for over 200 years, unopposed”, he said.
According to the attorney, recently, persons claiming to be descendants of McPherson have been holding meetings in the village and informing the residents that they will soon have to pay rent for the lands which they are occupying. “These families now fear that they would lose their lands and their houses constructed thereon in which they have been living all their lives”, he said.
It is in this regard that they now wish to present their evidence to the CoI. According to Nandlall, in light of what had happened it is clear that the Commission is likely to cause “many more problems than it will solve”.
Nandlall made a copy of the letter available to the media. He stated that the villagers and their ancestors/predecessors in title have been in peaceful and quiet enjoyment and occupation of these lands, unopposed by anyone and over the years have constructed dwelling houses thereon.
“These lands have been passed on from generation to generation. Some of them have acquired transports for the lands which they now occupy. Some of these transports were issued over one hundred (100) years ago. The others would have acquired possessory title under known principles of law and would have long become the owners of these lands by virtue of the nature and quality of their occupations and that of their predecessors”, he said.
Nandlall said that he is instructed that evidence has been presented to the Commission which may affect the proprietary interests of his clients. The evidence being referred to is the statements uttered by Lewis from the witness box.
He made it clear that his clients contend that they do not know ‘Kojo Mc Pherson’ and never heard of him until recently.
“My clients are therefore desirous of presenting evidence to the Commission. I am aware that the time delimited by the Commission for my clients to submit statements has expired. You must appreciate that natural justice and fairness mandate that my clients be heard”, he said before asking that the Commission facilitate a 21-day extension from the date of the letter to facilitate the submission of statements with a view of the families testifying before the Commission. “As I indicated above, my clients number approximately one hundred and fifty (150), and therefore, time is needed to have proper statements prepared for submission to the Commission”, he stressed.
The CoI resumed yesterday after a one-month break and is scheduled to sit for two weeks.
Lewis during his testimony 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.