West Berbice rice farmers challenge president’s revocation of land leases

West Coast Berbice (WCB) rice farmers have moved to court to challenge President David Granger’s revocation of their land leases, saying that they were never given a hearing and are now in danger of losing their crops, which are almost ready to be reaped.

Brian George and his daughter Tiffaine Hubbard as well as Joylyn Nicholson and her children Gratien Oswald Nicholson, Vaughn Aaron and Herman Yulotto Nicholson, have filed separate lawsuits asking the High Court to, among other things, declare that the revocation was unlawful and to award damages for the breach of their constitutional rights.

The court actions were recently filed by a team of lawyers headed by former Attorney General Anil Nandlall. The Attorney General Basil Williams SC and the Mahaica/Mahaicony Abary-Agricul-tural Development Authority (MMA-ADA) were listed as the respondents.

The farmers are also asking the court for a declaration that the cancellation of the leases for the lands located south of the MMA Main Canal in the rear of No. 40 Village, WCB, is contrary to and in violation of Article 142 of the Constitution and is unlawful, null, void and of no effect.

They are also asking for a declaration that the cancellation of the leases amounts to the compulsorily acquisition of the applicants’ leasehold interest thereof without the prompt payment of any or adequate compensation as is guaranteed by Article 142 of the Constitution.

The court is also being asked to award damages in excess of $5M for breach of the Applicants’ fundamental rights and freedoms as guaranteed by Articles 142 and 153 of the Constitution, together with a conservatory order prohibiting servants and/or agents of the Mahaica/Mahaicony Abary-Agricultural Development Autho-rity (MMA-ADA), from entering upon, remaining, occupying or in any manner whatsoever interfering with the applicants’ quiet and peaceful possession, occupation and enjoyment of Lease of State Land for Agriculture Purpose issued under Section 3(b) of the State Lands Act, and in accordance with the MMA-ADA Act.

In their application, George and Hubbard say that on or about June, 2014, upon an invitation of servants and/or agents of MMA-ADA, they duly made an application for a lease of State Land at No. 40 Village, West Coast Berbice and duly paid the requisite application and other fees. As a result, on November 3, 2014, they were duly issued with a lease of State Land for Agriculture Purposes issued under the State Lands Act for a period of 50 years.

They say that sometime in October, 2015, they attempted to pay their annual rent to the MMA-ADA, which refused to accept same.

The application stated that on March 18, 2016, the applicants observed a notice in the Kaieteur News newspaper, under the caption “Cancellation of state land leases Seafield and No. 40 villages, West Coast Berbice,” which informed that President Granger had cancelled their leases. Subsequently, on March 21, the applicants received a letter from the MMA-ADA advising that they must cease occupation of the land and give up peaceful possession to the Authority. It was stated that the applicants were “unware of the reason why their lease was cancelled and to date no one has furnished them with any reason whatsoever.”

The grounds listed for their application are that Article 142 of the Constitution of Guyana prevents the State from compulsorily acquiring private property without prompt payment of adequate compensation; that property within the meaning of Article 142 includes leasehold interests; and that the purported revocation of the Applicants’ lease by a notice published in the Kaieteur News Newspaper and by letter dated the 21st day of March, 2016 is contrary to and in violation of Article 142 of the Constitution and amounts to a deprivation and a compulsorily acquisition of their property which is protected by the said Article. It is also argued that no compensation whatsoever has been paid to the applicants; that no written law has been cited by the respondents to justify their purported revocation of the applicants’ lease; that the applicants were not afforded a hearing nor were they served with any notice in relation to or in connection with the purported revocation of their lease; and that the applicants’ fundamental right to protection from deprivation of property has been, is being, or is likely to be contravened.

Nicholson and her children listed similar grounds in their action. Additionally, they said that to date they have spent huge sums of money in preparing the land and in maintaining same “in good and proper condition and in preparing same for the cultivation of rice” and that sometime in June, 2015 and in 2016 the Authority refused to accept the rent.

All the applicants in their affidavits said that the Number 40 Village Co-operative Society and Patrick Hamilton, acting as agents with the permission of the MMA-ADA, have threatened to reap their crops and therefore they are fearful that agents of the respondents will dispossess them of their property at any moment.

At least one farmer, Phillip Johnson, who had fought the revocation of his lease under similar circumstances won judgment in his favour last year.

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