An Essequibo man is claiming that the Transport and Harbours Department (T&HD) took possession of land owned by his family to construct the Supenaam Stelling, located near Good Hope, Essequibo, without providing the promised compensation.
Leslie Lowe appeared before the Commission of Inquiry (CoI) into land issues on Monday at the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission headquarters, where he was represented by attorney Lester Caesar.
Lowe, acting in the interest of his grandmother, grandfather, and great-aunt, now deceased, told the tribunal that they had applied in 1999 for the land he says that compensation is now owed for.
The witness stated that at the time they had applied for the property, it had been unoccupied, but it is now held by the T&HD for the operation of the Supenaam Ferry Stelling.
He related that the land was owned by his grandfather, who used a pasture for grazing and also operated a sawmill there. The land was, however, never titled.
He further stated that in 1970, the government approached his grandparents and expressed their intention to move the stelling from Adventure to Supenaam. He stated that his grandmother had “basically granted them permission to do so,” but the stelling would not be established until years later.
He said that there were never any final arrangements made in terms of either permission for the use of land, or payment, while noting that any engagements were purely oral, but he also maintained that the arrangements were that compensation would be provided.
Asked how he knew they were never compensated, Lowe said he had never been informed of anything of the sort occurring.
“My position is that if the government, as it stands, is in occupation of the land, it’s only fair and right and just that we should be compensated for the land. I have no desire to inconvenience fellow citizens and fellow Essequibians. I do not want to take physical possession of the land but I have been trying to get—if I may use this word—the government attention to say, ‘Look, we have an issue, let us sit down and try to work through it,’” the man stated.
He noted that as far as he is aware, the government does not hold title to the land.
Application for claims
The other issue raised by Lowe is in relation to farmlands at Good Hope, Essequibo.
He related that Good Hope is a land registration area bought by ex-slaves, who had interest in lands that were undivided.
“…Those ex-slaves had an undivided interest. They were tenants in common. In so doing, they had a 1/20th share in the remaining land, the undivided lands. And so each proprietor would have a 1/20th share based on your entitlement, based on the transport,” Lowe said.
He estimated that each proprietor is entitled to approximately 30 acres of land.
The man further related it was this fact that led him to engage the court for title to the backlands, which were owed to his family. To this end, he visited the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission, had a survey done and an index map produced, and was advised to fill applications related to the claims.
Lowe said he was instructed to lodge those applications at the Commission.
However, the hearings would begin in his absence while he was away in the interior, and awards were made to other persons for the same portions of land he was claiming title to.
Lowe said he made enquiries pertaining to the application and learnt that it was never forwarded to the deeds registry and was also informed that it was his responsibility to have it taken over to the relevant agency.
Commissioner Carol Khan-James asked the witness why he had not followed through on the normal procedure.
“I was basically doing what I was— I would use the word ‘instructed’ to do. And it seemed that that was what everyone else was doing,” said Lowe.
“So it is your claim then that you were instructed to bring your application to lands and surveys and that lands and surveys failed to submit your claim to the land registry?” Khan-James further questioned.
“Yes, that is correct.”
“And because of that you were not awarded your rightful portion of land?” she continued.
“In addition to that, not only was I not awarded, but the court was not aware of my application, so it is normal that if they have somebody that would be affected by an application that they would have send out notice to me and I would have had due notice to attend court and I would able to object and to say what is my interest, what is my claim, and an award would not have been made. Awards were made against my portions of land that I am claiming,” Lowe explained.
The easy way out
Lowe had said that the lands had been awarded to persons within the community, though title has not yet been given.
He raised the issue of prescriptive rights, expressing the view that the system was flawed, and that agencies should take into consideration ancestry when lands are being awarded. He noted that as far as he is aware, there were about 28 persons applying for the backlands by prescriptive rights, with about 20 of them by his estimation, being the descendants of the proprietors of the lands.
“…No one attempted as far as I’m aware, of trying to establish their rights and interest in the land based on their ancestries; or based on being a beneficiary of their predecessor who might have hold transports. Everyone went by prescription to gain an award or title for the said lands. By so doing, I feel it was unfair, it was unjust, to those who had entitlement based on transport and who were trying feverishly to establish their right based upon their transports,” he stated.
He also noted that there was the case of actual beneficiaries claiming more land than they were entitled to.
“We have squatting taking place by beneficiaries, descendants [of] proprietors. For instance, myself, I can give an example. I would see a man for instance by the name of John, I know him to be a descendant of a proprietor and so I would safely tell myself that he has a right to be on the land being a descendant and being a beneficiary of one of the proprietors. The problem arises when that individual starting now to claim more land than his predecessor is entitled to,” he explained.
In the case of Good Hope, Lowe said that a lot of the squatters there are actually descendants of the proprietors, but raised another issue, which is that they can lay claim to land, while there are other beneficiaries (also descendants) living elsewhere.
“…The whole system is not fully [understood] when it comes to [the] land registration area, and this is my humble view. And so you find the easiest way—and this is me also acknowledging this other fact—it’s not easy to try to address ancestral land issues in terms of getting ancient documents, documents such as old copies of transports from since 18th century and 19th century, getting birth certificates, getting probates, getting all of these documents is very difficult and challenging, I can speak based on experience but nevertheless, I am of the firm view that even if some form of prescription to try to circumvent that whole process, it should have still been used as a guide to say, ‘Well look, you’re in possession of x land, you are descendants of Mr John, so, therefore, we will have to see all the descendants of Mr John and out of this entitlement, every one of these descendants are entitled to pieces and portions,’” he said.
“In other words, you’re saying that prescription was the easiest way out?” Caesar asked.
“Yes, that is my humble view,” Lowe responded.