As the National Toshaos Conference opens today, former Attorney General Anil Nandall is urging indigenous village leaders to press for answers on land titling issues for their respective communities.
“It is hoped that the toshaos would raise these crucial issues and extract from the Government answers to some of these questions and a commitment to proceed with Amerindian land titling as well as demand from the Government, compliance with the Amerindian Act,” Nandall said as he pointed to issues he felt needed attention.
Nandall said that he believes there is a concerted attempt by the current APNU+AFC government at “rewriting history to deny our Amerindian brothers and sisters as the first people of this land”.
“There appears to be an institutional reluctance to continue the PPP/C’s land-titling policy in respect of Amerindian lands. This policy was codified by the Amerindian Act of 2006, which was unanimously passed in the National Assembly after widespread consultations in Amerindian communities. A unit which was established within the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs was immediately disbanded when this Administration took office in May 2015. The staff were dismissed and it appears that the entire programme was scrapped. It was not surprising therefore, that Vice-President Sydney Allicock was forced to confess before a Parliamentary Committee in May this year, that no land title had been issued in the past three years. This constitutes a violation of the letter and spirit of the Amerindian Act,” he said.
“Not only has there been a cease order on the title of Amerindian lands but there has been a corresponding intrusion into Amerindian communities by this Administration the effect of which continues to reduce lands available to Amerindians. In converting Mabaruma and Bartica into township, boundaries have been extended which encroach on what was previously regarded as Amerindian lands,” he added.
Nandall also pointed to the creation of new NDCs in areas that are Amerindian communities which he opines will not only result in a diminution of lands to which Amerindians are lawfully entitled, but that it constitutes the imposition of a Government system on Amerindian communities, which collides with express provisions of the Amerindian Act.
“The Amerindian Act provides, elaborately, for a unique system of Government for Amerindian communities which is different from the local democratic organs, established in other parts of Guyana under different pieces of local government legislation,” he stated.
Further, he added, “These legal collisions are lost on the Government, so currently, we have various pieces of legislation clashing with each other. Once can argue that the later legislation repeal the former. What this means, is that this Government either deliberately or through inadvertence or incompetence, has repealed various provisions of the Amerindian Act. All of this is being done without any discernible consultations with the Amerindian community.”
Reminding Toshaos about government’s proposed Commission of Inquiry into land claims, he is urged the toshaos to be vigilant and use the current meetings, where they will see their policy makers, to make vocal their position on pertinent issues but specially land titling.
“I believe that this COI was a Trojan horse established to carry out a hatchet job on Amerindian land titling. It was only when the PPP/C unmasked this scheme both in the National Assembly and through press conferences held by the Leader of the Opposition that the Amerindian communities and indeed the nation, became aware of what was about to happen. As a result, the Government was forced to postpone the COI and to hastily hold consultations with Amerindian leaders,” he said.
“Obviously, the Amerindians objected and to date the terms of reference on how the COI to proceed to deal with Amerindian lands, have not yet been finalized,” he said as he implored the toshaos to get “commitments” from government.
In March, President David Granger established the CoI under the Commission of Inquiry Act, to examine and make recommendations to resolve all issues, and uncertainties surrounding the claims of Amerindian land titling, the individual, joint or communal ownership of lands acquired by freed Africans and any matters relating to land titling in Guyana.
Guyana has established under the Amerindian Act of 2006, a legal framework which addresses Amerindian land rights and Amerindian communal land titling. Under the Act, many Indigenous communities have been able to acquire communal titles.
Minister of State Joseph Harmon made it clear that the government has no intention to dilute any aspect of the Amerindian Act, or to replace it by any intervention. He said that the government is committed to working with the Indigenous peoples to resolve the issue.
President Granger is to address the opening of the conference at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre. Ironically, the toshaos have complained for months that he had not agreed to requests from them to meet with him.