The Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GL&SC) has handed over a lease to the National Toshaos Council (NTC) for a plot of land in Sophia, Georgetown, for the construction of a permanent secretariat.
The lease to the land is in keeping with a request made by the Indigenous leaders during the 2016 NTC conference.
Commissioner and Chief Executive of the GL&SC Trevor Benn presented the lease on Tuesday to Chairman of the NTC Nicholas Fredericks in the presence of Minister in the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs (MoIPA) Valerie Garrido-Lowe and other executive members of the NTC at the NTC Secretariat in Hadfield Street, Georgetown.
Benn noted that the GLSC had expedited the request and the lease was ready for handing over since mid-year.
Fredericks told Stabroek News that the lease was not uplifted earlier because of a previous decision that had been taken by the pervious council and the current council had to overturn the previous decision, which was done collectively on Monday at the meeting of the NTC.
Nevertheless, the NTC was happy, he said, to receive the document and the council will now move forward with planning for construction.
President David Granger, he said, had offered some assistance in the construction of the secretariat but the NTC would also have to seek others sources of funding.
In his remarks, Benn called for more dialogue between the GL&SC and the NTC to address the many land-related issues affecting indigenous communities.
“We at the GL&SC have an open-door policy and we are prepared to work with you to have your issues addressed. We may not be able to do so individually but as a body, I can assure you that we are going to look closely at the land related issues affecting your various communities,” he said.
He offered the support of the legal section of the GL&SC to assist the NTC on land- related issues—an offer which the NTC leaders said they hope to make take up.
In the meantime, MoIPA, GL&SC and the NTC will be working together to identify a larger plot of land to establish a complex that would include dormitories to accommodate toshaos, conference rooms and other facilities. This is in keeping with a promise Granger made earlier this year.
In brief remarks, Garrido-Lowe thanked the GL&SC for expediting the process on behalf of the NTC, while calling for a better working relationship between the two entities.
“That is the only way the matters we hear about daily about your lands are going to be addressed. You cannot have two and three persons sharing different views on a matter and expect that it will be addressed,” she said.
She added, “Meet with your people, sit as a council, and then raise concrete issues with the lands commission so that those matters could be addressed and be addressed speedily.”
Fredericks expressed his willingness to work with the GLSC to advance the relationship.
In most indigenous communities, he said, the burning issue is about land. “If we look at most of the Indigenous communities today, one of the most consistent issues is that of land. Most persons have issues with their lands and because of this, development is slow in some of those communities because there are not so much you can do on disputed lands,” he said.
He thanked the GL&SC for fast-tracking the NTC’s lease, while pointing out that it signals the beginning of great things to come for the indigenous peoples.
“So much we can do with our own secretariat, our own land and this is just the beginning of great things to come,” he said.
Members of the NTC took the opportunity to discuss a number of land issues with Benn and other GL&SC officers who were present. Benn said that once the issues fall within the ambit of the GL&SC, he will seek to address them.